I've tried to write here without sex and romance as slightly distanced, slightly academic issues. No one male these days can write anything about sex that might be taken as "narcissism". But tonight's entry is about me, and about overcoming fears.
A very lovely friend messaged me a few days ago with a very direct request. She wanted to know a particular number in my life. She's Kiwi, and so she's very, very direct. There are only four numbers in my life that I'd worry about. I knew she wouldn't ask about my salary. She wouldn't do that, and I wouldn't have to tell her that she probably makes at least twice what I do (who doesn't?). She knows my age to the day; I've never hidden that from her. She knows the tally of my sexual partners. That only leaves one thing, doesn't it? Her question was very simple, and not one any girl has ever asked me directly before. It's a question that I've avoided thinking about all my life. I sat on the edge of the bed with my iPad and watched my hands tremble. At my age, I have very few comforting illusions or blissful bits of ignorance left; I wasn't sure I needed to lose this one.
But I did remember something. I remembered about loyalty and trust and facing my demons. My lovely Wellington girl had written me not long before to say that if she had to describe me to her friends, she'd say Handsome, smart, passionate, loyal, brave, clever, mine. And she'd always told me I need my man to be brave. I was brave, once upon a time. And I wasn't going to be the sad figure sitting on his bed and having the shakes. I wouldn't be that figure. That's not the image I want to leave behind. My friend said that she was sure that every boy went searching for the number when he was about fifteen, which isn't true at all. I'd spent my life avoiding the whole topic. I called that dignity or having contempt for silly beliefs, but it was only a lack of courage.
Oh, I did my due diligence. I am a trained historian and researcher. I took my iPad and did some quick and basic research. Yes, there are studies on the issue. However not? I found the numbers based on studies in North America, Western Europe, and Australia-New Zealand. Now I sit there and grin ruefully. I was saying that the "average" result was whatever-whatever, and it struck me that...hmmm--- do I mean average or mode? Or mean?....and that I couldn't for the life of me remember my long-ago statistics classes or what each of those things was or did. So I just said "average". Why not? All the average results fell in a reasonably narrow range. I made a note of that. Let's remember--- I have been desperately competitive about test results since I was five years old. I have spent most of my life agonizing over test scores and defining myself by my scores. So I knew what I was competing against.
The next part of the story is the embarrassing part. You know what it is. There on the bed with a notepad, a red sharpie, and a cheap green plastic grade-school ruler. So we took measurements. Different bases, different positions, different angles. Made notes. And looked at the numbers. I typed out a message on my iPad to my friend in Wellington, took a breath, and hit Send.
I spent the day at my desk, disoriented and abstracted. Yes, I imagined a bell curve in my head. And...I knew where I fell on it. I was comfortably on the right side of the bell curve. Not the right-hand tail, not even close to that. But the place on the bell curve was...acceptable. Acceptable. Not awful. Nothing shameful. I told myself that--- nothing to be ashamed of. I was nonetheless scared all day. It felt all too like waiting for grades as an undergraduate or sitting outside a parent's room in a hospital and waiting for a verdict. My hands kept trembling.
About 18h30 that evening I checked my phone for email. She'd answered, and it began, Thank you for being brave. And you're perfect for me. The answer was everything I'd been too afraid to hope for: love, acceptance, trust, delight. All of that was there. For the record, now: I very nearly cried. That's the really embarrassing part--- not that I looked ridiculous taking the measurements, but that I ever doubted her.
Remember this. I was afraid to know the number at fifteen. I was afraid to know the number at thirty and far beyond. I didn't have to be--- I never had to be afraid. I don't know why I thought I ever had to be. No lover in all those years had ever laughed or mocked or told me I was lacking. But I spent all those years afraid of my own flesh, and I never needed to that. I had lovers, mind you, but I'd shied away from so many possibilities out of fear.
Remember this, too. That here so late in my life, a very lovely blonde girl half my age told me that I was valued and valuable, and that I was brave enough to be her man. If she messaged me tomorrow and told me to get my passport and laptop and a single carry-on and that she'd have a ticket to Wellington waiting for me, I'd throw over my so-called career and be gone--- Poof! Gone like Keyser Soze.