"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Way We Were–Sexual Fantasies Never Restored But Always Relived

Pete and Lisa Cummings were an ideal couple at least at the beginning and to all their friends.  Compatible, intimate, respectful, and perhaps most importantly sexually attuned.

Theirs was not a showy, exaggerated public display, but there was no mistaking their intimacy.   They were too well brought-up for anything suggestive, but no one in their company could miss the unmistakable  signals.  They would rather be by themselves, in bed, and alone.

Which is the way youth is supposed to behave . Unconcerned, alone, apart and happily so with sex at the center and everything else - friends, family, ambition, progress – on the periphery.

Which is why in Pete’s later years he remembered those sexual times, although this late in life  it was hard to recollect its uniqueness. 

For unique it was, and not only for the exotic, made-for-Hollywood locales, but for its particular nuances.  No two people could have performed this way – with such emotional acrobatics.  The ups-and-downs of life on the cultural margins – Cotonou, Abidjan, and Luanda – were nothing compared to the surprises of their sexual life. 

Who would have expected this young woman of American heritage and Catholic schooling to be so complaisant, willing, and adventurous?  For her, marriage was a convenient cover, a traditional homecoming after years of unmarried sex.  ‘All is permitted’, especially within the sanction of the Good Sisters.

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Pete, who had never doubted marriage but who had always wondered at its longevity, was daily surprised at the sexual dévoilement of his wife – her engaging sexual maturity, her respectful marginalization of her Catholic and Early American background, and her surprising frankness.  Where did she come from?  And where was this easy, uncomplicated sexual permissiveness born?

He never found out because the marriage was a good one.  It never fractured because of his dalliances or her increasing disillusionment, and continued long into sexual middle age because of inertia and a residual attraction of one to the other. 

Pete had his affairs both temporal and excusable and more serious and potentially lasting.  If it hadn’t been for circumstances – the stage-left arrival of the man Birthe had been waiting for her whole life – Pete would have left Lisa and moved to Ethiopia, Chad, or East Timor.  He would have sacrificed his life for this plain, unusual, and unsolicitious Danish woman.

If it hadn’t been for a hardwired propriety and for a peripheral, Catholic morality, Lisa might have slept with Sergio Del Astrologo and perhaps gone with him to Trieste.

Neither strayed far from home, and the marriage lasted; or in the view of Edward Albee, persisted.  Marriage is the crucible of maturity, he said, and without its confines, one can never evolve. They did not ‘endure’ and certainly did not suffer; but after the birth of their first child, Lisa’s attention turned elsewhere.  They reverted to a pre-sexual existence; or better to a common, unfortunate post-partum one.  Their unique sexual relationship had been displaced.

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Now, decades after the birth of his children and decades closer to the end of the tunnel, than the opening Pete wondered what had happened.   Where had his sexually complaisant, willing, and adventurous young wife gone? Was she a fiction? Had she ever been? Had her concerns about investments, grouting, and charitable giving totally displaced her formerly unconcerned sexual desires?

It was as though he had been living with two different women.  What to make of his serial infidelities? Sexual adventures with young women to recall or relive those he had had with his wife. A final existential compromise? Life that could never be relived but only reconsidered.

Pete, who had been married previously and had gone through a particularly difficult divorce, vowed  that any second marriage would be permanent.  No matter how many infidelities, cinq-a-septs, paramours, or even casual lovers he might have had, marriage would remain intact.

Yet, he could never square the young, sexually talented Lisa with the old mother of his two children.  Growing old and still in love was a grotesque Hallmark Card fantasy.  Marital longevity would never be more than convenient accommodation – getting used to each other at best.

Which leads to sexual validation.  If unmatched days of sexual union are past, faded and almost unrecognizable; and if a September-May liaison cannot match earlier and original sexual enthusiasm, then what is left?

God’s greatest irony, is, it is said, that having created an intelligent, sentient, sensitive, insightful being, and allotted a few short decades to enjoy this uniqueness, he consigned Man to eternity beneath the cold, hard ground.

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Worse is the attenuated longevity of modern times.  Men live longer, think of sexual conquest daily, but are progressively unable to do anything about it.

So, years after his long affair with Marfa Potter, Pete found his sexual fantasies changing from her to his wife – or at least to  the young, uninhibited, physically irresistible woman that she once was.  He fantasized less about Marfa – who, although satisfying and remarkably agile and uninhibited had no emotional staying power – and more about his wife of forty years.  She became his sexual poupée; and after decades became, once again, his object of desire.

How surprising.  One minute he was imagining Marfa with her pajama bottoms half down in the stairwell of 3342 Irving Street, and the next his wife beside him breathing into his ear.  How quickly he had moved from the hope of a sexual encounter to an imagined one to a remembered one.

Pete was not the first to have decided that a virtual world – or at least a vividly remembered past one – was as good if not better than the real thing.  A function of age, he reasoned; but still no denying its allure.  What was so pertinent about the immediate ‘real’ world after all?  Wasn’t our fantasy far more accomplished and ‘pertinent’ than any roll in the hay?

This was old age, he figured sadly.  At some point, physical or emotional,  reality begins to hold less and less interest.  We care less about what is than what was or what might have been.

Pete still enjoyed recalling his fugues with Adele in the Graham Greene Suite of the Olaffson Hotel in Port-au-Prince, with Aisha at the Victoria in Bucharest, and with Birthe at the George Rex in Copenhagen; but he kept coming back to Lisa The Young.

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There was something about secure love that bridled irrelevant emotion.  She was not his first love, nor his best love,, nor even his last; but she was his most enduring, perplexingly so.  He had to envision her in his sexual fantasies as he had pursued her in reality.

If truth be known, she was far more appealing as a sexual fantasy than a real woman, but at his age, beyond adventure and hope, it would have to do.

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