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

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Divorced Men–Old Girlfriends First, Then Floundering In Uncharted Sexual Waters

It is not surprising that men, especially those of a certain age, Google old girlfriends within months of their divorce.  What easier, more accommodating and cheap way to reenter the sexual marketplace than to look up familiar women, tried women, safe women before trolling in unfamiliar waters.  Ray Handley hadn’t been divorced for more than two weeks when he searched for Laura Bloom, a girl he always regretted not marrying.  His wife, Maggie, didn’t exactly play second fiddle to Laura Bloom, but by comparison to this vital, energetic, beautiful, and passionate girl, she belonged far back in the orchestra.

Of course marriages that last are not made on such flimsy grounds – nothing fades more quickly than energy, beauty, and passion – and Maggie was the model of marital sense, a tenured professor, published author, and – thanks to her post-modern, enlightened feminism, also a good mother.

A key to the longevity of the marriage was Ray’s happy participation in his wife’s struggles for women’s equality and social justice.  He was one of the few men on the front lines demanding ‘revised justice’ on university campuses, protocols that assumed the rightness of women’s claims of rape and sexual abuse and set aside due process because the entire justice system was nothing more than a male, misogynist hierarchy.

He attended every feminist conference from ‘Queerness as a Metaphor for Un-Civil Society’, to ‘Slavery, Dykes, and the Colonial Transgender Holocaust’.  While at first women were suspicious of him and his motives, his bona fides were more than enough for them.  He had been on the first buses to Selma, first across the Pettis Bridge, first to stand with Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton against white privilege, an early supporter of Rev. William Sloane Coffin and the Peace Movement.  The cross-over to feminism and women’s issues was an easy elision and not a leap.

Image result for images logo peace movementImage result for images logo feminism

Of course most of the straight women in the assemblies wondered what he was doing there.  They were women after all, in search of confident male pursuers and not feminist, people-of-color, stand-with-the-oppressed groupies like Ray.   While they might praise Ray for his principled stance and solidarity, they really wished that he would leave the floor to women, and be men.  Contradiction and irony were not unknown within The Movement.

Ray for years rode his wife’s coattails – or rather in her politically charmed chariot – proud of his ultra-progressive persona and his feminist, woke, inclusivity.  There was no progressive cause that he didn’t embrace, and his commitment to feminism was only an entrée to bigger and even more important causes like global warming and The Environment.  His reputation and curriculum vitae was continuously burnished, updated, and fine-tuned.  He was a progressive’s progressive, and a champion to many.

Ray was surprised at his wife’s growing sexual diffidence.  She was not exactly cold, but indifferent.  They were well into middle age, but not past their sexual pull-date, and had had many – for them – exotic parties for two with vodka, wine, and anal sex.  Some loss of sexual interest was to be expected, but not to this degree.  Was she finally, after all these years, growing tired of him?  Had she taken a lover?

In fact all the feminist polemic and gender-persuasive insistence had indeed turned her head.  Why not? she thought, when an attractive black women made her sexual desires clear.  And what better way to lose her lesbian cherry than with an oppressed, put-upon, marginalized woman of color?  She was surprised to find the experience not only pleasing but exciting – more passionate, in fact, than any she had had with a man.   Ray quickly faded and was moved to the margins.   Here was the perfect epiphany – a revelation of sexuality that Maggie had repressed for so long merged with political intensity. Nothing with Ray could have been or could ever be so satisfying.

Maggie chose the proper moment to make her announcement to Ray and her children – after a dinner of roast chicken with rosemary, bliss potatoes, and farm-fresh corn, she said that she was leaving them, Bethesda, and the straight world for the first true love of her life.

A flash in the pan thought Ray, hopefully.  She will have her bi-sexual, bi-racial fling and return to the white, straight core from which progressive causes originate and function; and back to a husband who loves her.

It was not to be.  The affair between Maggie and LaShonda Harris was neither an experiment in bi-sexual fantasy nor a new, short-term, half-baked racial experience.  As the weeks and months went on, it was clear that the two women loved each other, and there was no returning to a white, middle class,  heterosexual life.

Separation does many things to a man, not the least of which is a re-assessment of life and sexual ways.  Ray had known from the beginning that  Maggie was no Laura Bloom, no free spirit, no hedonistic, let-it-all-hang-out, purely sexual being; and that his choice of partners would entail compromise.  Yet after the separation and the impending divorce, Ray wondered whether his life of rectitude, civil temperance, and doing the right thing was worth sacrificing his spirit.  The answer was ‘No’, and so began his search for his former girlfriend.

Time had not been kind to Laura Bloom.  From pictures pasted on social media, she had become fat, un-comely and unseemly, yenta-looking and far from the ideal woman she had seemed decades earlier.  What was he thinking?  Only one look in his bathroom mirror should have been enough.  His former paramour had three adult children, an early Teamster retiree as a husband, a home – of all places – in Mantaloking, home to ‘Jersey Girls’ and Mafioso goombas from Newark, and an interest in ‘gardening,, self-help, and autism’.  Needless to say, he never called, wrote, messengered, or texted.

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The problem wasn’t with Laura per se, but with the past and reconciling it with the present.  He was past-due on sexual attractiveness.  Although men his age routinely had lovers thirty years their junior, they had come to these affairs knowledgeably.  Women, whether young or old, are attracted to maturity, sexual confidence, financial security, and maleness – the savoir faire of an older man – but Ray had none of these.  His only hope was pairing with a woman of his own age,  someone like himself who had made wrong early choices, realized too late that it was time to change, and had to settle for what she had agreed to in the beginning.

This was not at all what he had expected or hoped for.  There were such things as bright beginnings; but where to look?  In his day there were singles bars, library reading rooms, and alumni seminars; but virtual dating – more controlled, more efficient, and more cost-effective – had taken over.  How could he possibly navigate this new electronic universe; and would the output be worth the input?

So, he continued to mine the alumni resources as far back as country day school.  He had heard that Nancy Boothby – his eighth grade love - had moved to California; and that had possibilities; not like resettling in Iowa or Nebraska, and might signal a sexual and emotional freedom that had lasted since the Sixties; but she had died of breast cancer many years earlier.

There was Belinda Dandy who, despite her name, was from solid Chicago stock – the Dandys had built a paper empire to rival Scott – and Belinda had hoped that Ray would marry her and join Daddy in running the company; but rumors were that she had married an Italian and was living on the Riviera – or a Mexican with a Cancun villa; or a Serbian with holdings throughout the Adriatic and the Black Sea.  Ray saw that he had no hope in this company of international gentlemen, chose not to renew contact with Belinda, and closed the book on her, Smith College, and weekends at the Taft.

After two years of this, Ray realized that his old captain’s license was no longer valid.  Navigating these new sexual waters – coursing the gender spectrum, afraid of ending up with a half-woman, but so dying for sexual encounter with another human being that he might look the other way in the morning – was not an easy task.  So much had happened over the decades since he and Maggie were married that he felt that he hadn’t even a toehold.

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Of course there were women as sexually dépaysée as he was – adrift in sexual waters, hoping for a familiar buoy, but grasping more than getting purchase – but where were they? Finding the right woman would be like finding a needle in a haystack unless the gods intervened; and pray he did for divine guidance  if not resolution, to no avail.  He was as alone and lonely as he had ever been; and if the personal columns in a recent edition of NOW newsletter were correct, Maggie and LaShonda had bought a condo in Pacific Grove and were as happy as clams.  Why had he been so unlucky?

He continued to mine the Internet for old loves, even marginal ones like Lacy Birnbaum whom he had taken to the Lefferts prom and who had been laughed at because of her gimp and misunderstood because her father had short-changed customers at his clothing store and in a very Republican town campaigned on behalf of ‘the little man’.

Resignation to old men’s bathrobes and Chinese take-out was on his horizon because it already had happened to many men of his age.  Watch out, he told himself, but with no words of self-encouragement.

The list of old girlfriends had dwindled to nothing.  They either had died, persisted in bad marriages, were divorced and living on generous personal incomes, or were resigned like him to incidental contact.

It would be nice to report that Ray eventually found his soulmate; but he did not.  He was simply too inflexible, too fixated on ideas and principle, and too stubborn to give an inch.  There were plenty of women who would gladly have had a fling with him, married or not, but he was too sexually dense.  He had never had to rely on clues and suggestion – if progressivism is anything, it is not subtle; things are either right or wrong - so he was lost with women who react first on instinct and intuition, and only second on fact.

The best he could manage was a condo in retirement home for the years before his death and a memorial bench on the C&O Canal after, made possible by the generous gift of his nieces and nephews.

Image result for images memorial benches on C&O canal

Sex, while instinctual, basic, and primitive, still needs to be learned.  Ray Handley was one of those men who thought that sex came naturally and always missed out.  He missed out on his first go-round with an impossibly serious cause-chaser, lesbian-in-waiting; and missed out on all other chances and opportunities because he had learned nothing at all about women.  Not exactly the war between the sexes, but poor intelligence.

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