Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A Tale of Two Girlfriends

I don't write much about sexuality (exceptions here) because I don't find that realm as fascinating as others do. For most people, the attraction of sex, beyond physical pleasure, is in the unique opportunity to lower shields (i.e. intimacy), pause mental narration, and surrender to the moment. And I don't need sex for those things...because I can dexterously reframe. So I'm demystified, if not disenchanted.

It reminds me of a related matter. For years, I‘ve heard assurances that parenthood is a uniquely profound experience which non-parents can never possibly understand. I finally pieced it together: the experience of birthing and raising another person is the only creative experience most people ever have, and it feels like magic (heck, creativity IS magic). But, as a creative person, I experience this magic abundantly without having traveled that particular route.

I'm one of those funny-looking guys with a history of puzzlingly glamorous girlfriends (I never recruited on that basis; unattractive women simply aren't attracted to me). I probably ought to have been more grateful, but what I got out of this was an understanding of what really interests me, which - as is often the case - turned out to be sharply at odds with my inclinations at multiple levels. I’ll briefly sketch two very different relationships (don't worry, this will be rated PG-13 at most).

Lollapalooza Girlfriend

What does every homely non-jock dream of? An oh-my-god sexy and eager girlfriend with no "off" switch. A simple wish simply granted!

Too simple, really. Porn scenarios, I discovered once the initial thrill subsided, are not fertile ground for poetic connections. In the realm of sports sex, there's the good kind - each partner concerned with the other's physical satisfaction - and the bad kind - a transactional activity between self-interested parties. But either way, the eye's on the ultimate prize: "getting off", if you’ll pardon the expression.

That one-pointed goal is at odds with deeper intimacy, let alone any spontaneous expression of unique affection within a unique moment between unique people. You're the current entrant filling the role of “Partner”. Clad in your natty tennis shorts, you might land your serve or you may fault, but it’s clear what you're there for: to engage in a familiarly-structured activity toward a highly quantifiable goal.

Honestly, sports sex isn't much more elevated than animal husbandry, and anyone who still finds it compelling past their 20s strikes me as sadly zoological. With a nod to the great artist Banksy, making love to have an orgasm is like eating a great dinner to take a shit.

Sports sex (most often the bad kind) is, alas, what most people do, leaving spontaneity and subtlety - and, you know, love - irrelevant amid the urgent frisson - not that there's anything wrong with frisson (furniture’s made to be broken). Embroiled in the invigorating tennis match, approaching set point, what kind of nut would focus attention on nonquantifiable nuance, hippy-dippy open-heartedness or artsy-fartsy poeticism?
You might want to review this old posting with new understanding.
"Oh," you helpfully offer, "you're into that whole Tantric thing with delayed orgasm!"

No, that's not it. If you're expressing authentic feelings, orgasm's a side effect, not a goal - immediate or deferred. It's a part of the experience, but not a highlight (much less the entire point). Authentic intimacy with someone you seriously love is a far more enriched sensation than some physical spasm. If you do it right, the bell gets rung in a well-timed manner, but that's just the cherry on the sundae.

My years with Lollapalooza Girlfriend were at least educational. It's always interesting to learn a skill set. But like all cheap highs, sports sex grows dreary. I yearned for something more, having experienced the top rung of Superficiality and discovering what it must be like to be handsome. Finding my most-wished-for outcome a limited pleasure (I’m forever climbing ladders in vain), I swore off sports sex and began explaining to sports-inquisitive women that, sorry, I can't see the point of pretending to be in love.

Toxic Girlfriend

This time there was deep love and connection - definitely not just sports sex - to a point where I can't say I was entirely sane (the contemporary notion of balanced, neat, tidy love relationships - personified by diffident Hugh Grant - would baffle any of the great romantic poets. If you can remain entirely balanced while in love, that ain't love).

Problem: she was an egomaniacal monster prone to manipulation (she'd gotten herself hired as a private school teacher by concocting a phony work and educational history abroad, and that's just the beginning of the craziness). I recognized it all along, but was stuck. Because that's what love is: being stuck despite one's misgivings and negative assessments. That's the entire ballgame; a feature, not a bug. If love hinges on a checklist of admirable qualities and laudable behavior, that ain't love. Love just is. As I once wrote,
We've all learned that we never fall in love for good reasons. Why does a toddler favor a certain teddy bear? Why does a golden retriever bring home a certain stick? They're not weighty decisions; the answer is: "Just because". Our deepest touchstones are mysteriously capricious. We endlessly re-experience the power of serendipity, yet there's a puzzling amnesia.
This time, it was profoundly loving and spontaneously expressive. The superimposition extended well beyond the physical. But, like a horror film, it became evident that I was bound tightly to someone dangerously awful. Yeesh!

To Super Glue or Not to Super Glue?

A typical response would be "Keep trying! Find the right person!" But human beings are all narcissistic. You only fail to notice because of your own narcissism; that is, we're too self-involved to recognize that we're only guest starring in someone else's movie - and not even as our actual selves, but as thinly-abstracted avatars inside their heads. A cacophony of projection. What's more, intentions are never entirely benign. Even the smuggest "Find the right person!" person would readily acknowledge that relationships involve ceaseless compromise; overlooking the insufferable and abiding the unbearable. Again, that's the ballgame.

So holding out for non-sporting love means being tightly bound to what will be revealed as at least somewhat awful, and it's on you to reframe the stink as perfume (never expecting reciprocal forbearance, of course). It helps that love has the power to effect such a tenuous bond, but supergluing myself to dramatics and misery doesn't strike me as an attractive prospect. Thing is, I lack the essential spackling, gap-filling element: codependency. I love love, but am also perfectly happy solo. And as my mentor Arnie Lawrence told me at a young age, while I was dreaming of a career as a jazz musician, "If you're not uncontrollably compelled, you'd be out of your goddamn mind to choose it."

Further reading: "The Inside Story on Asceticism"

File the above under Genie Wishes . I keep getting my wishes granted, inevitably learning that I should have been more careful what I'd wished for. Our lives, I believe, are unique obstacle courses custom-designed to teach us what we each most need to learn. In my case, every fulfilled wish, in every part of my life, has comically yielded a dead end. It took decades, but I eventually allowed myself to be coaxed into looking less toward the external (the dramatic narrative) and more toward the internal (a big-hearted, wide-open embrace of whatever arises) for ultimate satisfaction. Exuberantly playing the cards I'm dealt without pressing for this or that result or ruminating over what's missing. Not needing it all to get better (and, crucially, developing the equanimity to utter those transformative seven words without an iota of bitter glumness).

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