Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ninety-Seven: Margins

A British interviewer of  a certain age ran afoul of the Guardians of the Problematic not so very long ago by saying that whenever he was speaking with attractive women, he was very likely to be considering in a part of his mind what she'd be like as a lover, or what an affair with her would be like. I read the on-line attacks on him by the usual crowd of ranting moralizers and gender warriors and just threw up my hands. It did no good to ask if these people were fools, since they so obviously were, but I had once again to wonder how it had come to this.

I for one have never partitioned my thoughts about speculative desire. I have to be very open about that. If I'm talking to a lovely girl, I'm flirting, even if it's just pro forma. When I meet an attractive girl, or if I see her walk into a room or an office or a club, I am constructing a story in my head about what it would be like to have a romance with her, what it would be like to take her to bed.

There's a difference between that and leering. There is. One needn't be staring or drooling. But in some part of my mind, whatever else I may be doing, I am telling myself stories in my head about how the girl and I would meet, about what we'd do out for drinks and dinner, about what where we'd travel and how we'd flirt and what we'd do in bed. I can be lecturing to classes or working over documents with a client or reading in a cafe, but I am telling stories in my head and imagining what conversations would be like. Yes, of course, I wonder about what her key sexual skills are, certainly, but I'm also constructing dialogues and trying to puzzle out what interests we'd share.

Sometimes I know there's a kind of self-imposed melancholy there: Isn't it lovely to think so? Or sighing for what have might been even more than thinking about how to actually take the girl out or take her to bed.

In any case, I can't imagine ever not creating stories. I can't ever imagine ever not feeling desire when I see or talk to someone attractive. I can't imagine not flirting a bit when I talk to someone attractive. It's really not possible for me to not imagine some kind of sexual tinge to how I interact with someone attractive. Just as with the British newscaster, even if I go on to be completely professional in a meeting, the attraction, the interest, the stories will have been there.

After all, why shouldn't those things have been there? Why do we find it so horrifying that we (and here I'm using "we" to mean "males", since those attacked for the sin are inevitably male) experience desire or speculate about what-might-have-been?  Why is there the presumption that someone (meaning someone female) doesn't know that others will find her desirable and/or will be appalled and horrified at the thought? Why is it so hard to recognize that desire exists and that a certain well-controlled, often unspoken, sexual tension is likely to be in the air? Importantly--- why do we think that sexual desire or tension obliterates everything else? Why is it so difficult to imagine a certain amount of speculative or fleeting desire as just one more possible element of social encounters? Why does being desired seem to be taken as having everything else in one's life erased?

I suppose I'm asking why it seems to be so hard to imagine people as doing or being more than one thing. And why the culture has become so desperately afraid of sexual desire. It is funny, though--- sex as an act can still be assimilated to the category of "intimacy", but the desire behind it and the imagination fueling it are regarded as part of some category of oppression and power. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Ninety-Six: Caveats

There's an article I ran across not so very long ago where the author talked about the horror of contemporary dating life.  The article struck a moralizing and morally-panicked tone--- how horrible, that men might ask their dates for the kinds of sex they'd seen in porn! and on a first date! ---and I dismissed the bulk of it with a contemptuous flick of my hand. I don't find it horrible at all either that men might watch porn or that they might ask a partner to try things from films.  I certainly don't find it worthy of outrage that one might ask that on a first date, either. I really do find such articles deserving of contempt.

Still...it is true that dating life here in the teens of the twenty-first century is fraught and often frightening. There was one brief passage in the article that did catch my eye, and it did leave me deeply uneasy. There was a throwaway line about all the things morally-corrupted males ask girls to do, and ended by imagining girls crying afterwards amongst themselves over the disgusting, pathetic things men really wanted to do. There's something in that to make one's blood freeze. What I imagined when I read that was simple enough. Not girls crying, but girls laughing at the things males wanted or liked or asked for. Not, mind you, laughing with affection or delight, but with mockery and disdain.

One of the most fraught parts--- the most frightening parts ---of any affair is making the leap from flirtation and seduction to actual sex. That leap from words to flesh is always dangerous. All the things that sound romantic or erotic, that sound alluring or exciting when they're spoken or hinted at, can go bad when translated into the concrete. Flesh and physics are tricky things, and it's so easy for imagination to fail, for things imagined to fail abysmally in practice. More than that, of course, there are social fears at hand.

Let's not talk about body fears, about the fears of not being attractive enough, not sleek and toned enough. That's not what this is about.  The fear, I think, comes from something else. If you--- as a male ---have any particular sexual interests, anything not wholly vanilla, then there's always that fear of being unable to reveal them with any kind of safety. When you make the step from the bar table to the bed, you will have to finally tell a new lover what it is that you fancy. This is what I like, you'll say. Which is also saying This is what I am. And in that moment you're wholly vulnerable--- undefended against derision and mockery, against that look in a girl's eyes that says pathetic and disgusting.

This is a gendered thing, I think. It's simply not something I can imagine--- being male and looking at a girl with disgust when she tells you her fetishes or preferences. A lovely girl willing to come into one's bed--- and you'd mock her sexual interests? No. That's not something I can ever imagine doing, not something anyone male is likely to do.

But if you're male,  to express any non-vanilla interests is to take a very real risk. My Young Companions know that coming into my bed involves being with someone much older, and they know that there will be games that involve silk blindfolds and ice cubes and candle wax and riding crops. They've known that all along. But that's something that I do always present as a kind of abstraction, as something almost literary, as a chance to be part of a story, as something to be expected with an older lover, with a self-described roué. I haven't had to express anything that was too concrete, too fleshly....and at least the things I tell Young Companions that I want to do involve them and not me. What I tell them about are rituals that offer them literary pleasures. Those things are abstract enough to offer some kind of distancing from the words pathetic or disgusting.

I've known all my life that girls do talk amongst themselves. I have tried very hard to avoid any activities or needs or interests that can be turned into derision.  My own tastes run to the abstract and literary, and my Young Companions tend to be girls who are bookish.  Those things are a kind of defense.

The contemporary dating world is fraught and frightening. There's no question about that.  There's the ever-present fear of being found sexually contemptible and disgusting. A girl might be thought too slutty if she asserted certain desires, but to be male is always to risk being thought pathetic and disgusting. Those things are worse--- or have worse consequences. I've always thought of myself as sexually open, as adventurous, as open to experimentation. I'm not sure the risks are worth it these days.  Having any fetishes, any particular or non-vanilla needs or desires, lays you open to being thought contemptible. Yes, I think pathetic is found far worse than slutty, if we're weighing these things on a contemporary scale.

The step from table to bed, the moment when you have to say that you like these things--- the level of risk here in 2014 is higher than it was twenty years ago, and the level of fear is higher whenever you need to explain or justify yourself. Sexual experimentation, sexual tastes, sexual fetishes--- the whole thing becomes ever more terrifying. Looking at a new lover and waiting to see derision in her eyes... That fear is always there, now.  Unless you're willing to stay well inside the lines of the most anodyne and inoffensively vanilla tastes, you can never admit to wanting anything particular. That's the way it works in contemporary dating. Never admit to what you might really like. Whatever happens, admit nothing, ask for nothing, try nothing. It's probably best, all things considered, to say nothing at all, to shut down your imagination or longings altogether.