Friday, January 09, 2004


I've been thinking about this post for a while, and originally I planned to start in media res (cf. the post on why I should have learned Latin, fabulous Latin, sooner) with a story about the relative nature of infidelity. But then I got an incredible endorsement from another blogger who not only linked to me, but told his readers that my writing was all these great mature things, and now I'm feeling a wee bit self-conscious. Flattered as all get-out, too. But also thinking that I should offer a caveat.

So, if you don't know me, and Marc sent you, consider yourself warned: sometimes I'm not only long-winded, I'm long-winded about sex and relationships, neither of which entirely make sense to me. Of course, from my conversations with other people, I know I'm not alone in that. So you have a choice here: hang in with my thrashing around today, or wait a couple of days for a longish and absolutely sex-free dissertation on the modern discovery of the coelacanth, an ancient and incredibly ungainly fish with fins on every conceivable surface.

Sex or coelacanths. Choose your own adventure.

Something I've been keeping an eye on lately is how my knowledge of my father's mortality has been influencing my relationship choices. For the past couple of years, I told a friend yesterday, I've been sad that my father may not see me married. It makes working weddings--especially Jewish weddings, where the bride and groom, and then the bride and her father, get hoisted up on chairs and danced around--incredibly hard. I had to leave one early about a year ago because I started wondering if my dad would ever be up on a chair, and I just lost my shit. Tear tracks on polyester tuxedo do not an attractive waiter make. My manager understood and mercifully sent me home.

It's not that my dad will judge me for not marrying, just that I know he wants to see me happy. Like most families, my folks like to see me happy in love.

That's the first piece of this. A parent's terminal illness as background music; and the way every relationship's dance is influenced, however subtly, by the dancer's desire to find a mate that will love him or her as well as the parent does. Look dad, it's going to be okay. There is someone who will cherish me as you have. Maybe I'll have forty years with them, like you've had with the person who loves you best. In a sharp moment I understand that marriage isn't just the transfer of ownership I always saw it as, a woman passed from father to husband, a business transaction, a hoary leftover. It is also, or can be, something else. Something finer and more subtle. I've been gauging the people I date accordingly, and that's a heavy load.

That's the first piece.

The second is libido. Ohhh boy.

Pop culture tells us that highly stressful situations affect how people express themselves sexually. I'm thinking of the Taxi episode where two people are trapped in a snowbound car and have sex to keep from freezing to death, or the gag in the film Airplane!, after the passengers realize that they're all going to die, and there's a young woman telling her seatmate that she wants to make love to him because she doesn't want to die a virgin. It's poignant the first time, but we keep cutting back to her telling the same story to almost everyone on the plane, including (my memory is faulty here) a horse, or at least someone dressed as a horse.

Like so much pop culture dreck, I'm finding this conceit to have a bit of truth within it. Because I'm especially stressed out right now, and it's playing merry hell with my libido--up, down, up, down. These days I'm a sexual astronaut on an EVA gone mysteriously awry.

I don't know if it's my age, and that hormone surge women get when they cross the thirty line, that "are we gonna use these eggs or not?" demand that I mocked when I was in my twenties and didn't know any better. I don't know if it's my desire to live passionately because we have so little time. But whatever it is, I'm strongly desirous.

And then I'm not.

And then I am.

And then I'm not.


I have a FWB who does his best to keep up, but I believe I'm sharing him with some other people, and he has an actual day job that he needs sleep to do, and I'm trying not to drain all his remaining energy. I have some other people I would love to get closer to, but I've just realized that I'm afraid that my energy's too jagged, too weird, that I'll emotionally hurt anyone who gets sexually involved with me right now. I'm a bad flight risk, I wrote in an e-mail to a friend. I feel like I'm too fragile and self-absorbed to be a particularly good partner. I swear myself to celibacy, and a week later I'm, well, doing something that has no appearance of celibacy whatsoever. I vacillate between reclusiveness and outright predation. I nearly hit on the barrista who rang up my mocha tonight because I found the way she asked if I wanted whipped cream on it suggestive.

And then there is the third part.

The unwilling homewrecker.

I try to be scrupulously careful about other people's partners. I've seen what happens when someone steps out without the explicit consent of their partner, and it's such a mess. I've been cheated on (and I use that term with reservations, because I think it's too loaded) myself, and confronted the outsider, who told me that she didn't really care how I felt about what had happened because a) she had assumed my partner and I had an agreement (we didn't) and b) she was in a bad place in her life and screwing my lover made her feel better about herself, so I could just go take a flying. I am, obviously, condensing a much longer conversation.

I was furious at the time. At him, for lying to me for nearly a year about something I didn't care about so much (she's not made of soap, she shan't wear out, said the old man when confronted with the news of his young wife's infidelity.) At her, for being willfully blind.

But as I get older, and more of the people I meet are in committed long-term relationships of one kind or another, I'm starting to see what might have been happening for her. And I'm starting to understand that the popular image of a single female trying to take someone else's partner away isn't the whole story. Sometimes you just meet someone that you like, and you become sexually curious about them. Were they single, you might mess around with them once or twice and have it mean nothing, a lark. Or it might mean a lot, but only for a little while, and then you would move on to something else with a heart lightened by the gift of your time together.

But they aren't single. Every time you admire their hands as you talk to them, your eyes slide over the ring. You don't want to cause them, or their partner, any grief. You don't even really want them all to yourself. Just, well, a loan. I imagine a woman ringing the doorbell. Can I borrow a cup of sugar and your girlfriend? The sugar I'll use (do you want some of my famous oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies?), your girlfriend I'll bring back in an hour.

For some reason, every time this has happened to me in the past few years, it's centered on one or another of the chefs with whom I work. Have I developed a fetish for white jackets and elastic waistbands? I don't know. How much of this has to do with factors one and two, as spelled out above? I don't know. Am I looking for someone to mend my heart by coddling my stomach? Good lord, I have no idea.

I don't want the whole cake, but couldn't I just sort of, well, run my finger through the frosting?