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

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Women–Can’t Live With Them, Can’t Live Without Them–A Cautionary Tale

Handel Brachman had a lively sexual interest every since he was a young boy – the first in his fourth grade class to kiss girls in the woods; the first in his seventh grade class to notice Nancy Boothby’s breasts; the first in his eighth grade class to fondle them; and the first in his tenth grade class to have sex with her.  Whose budding sexuality led whose? Nancy’s or Handel’s? Who followed whom into the woods and who led? Handel could only remember being there, unsure of whether he should or shouldn’t do what Nancy asked, but forgot his question soon enough.

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Boys are always a few steps behind girls in both emotional and physical development; but they never learn the lesson of female desire properly - not only do girls want it as much as boys, they want it even more.  Nancy helped Handel gain a step, and ever after his time in the woods with her he never hesitated to make a move.  Rejection never occurred to him – of course there would be some women who would turn him down, but most did not, and if they did he never took it personally.  One size does not fit all, de gustibus non disputandum est and all the rest. Demurral was never rejection, no time was to be wasted on unrequited pursuits, and new opportunities always awaited in study hall, the library, and on the Mall.

The second lesson that Nancy Boothby taught him was that women adore confidence.   Why put up with beating around the bush while a boy gins up his courage to manage a kiss?  Better to deflect an unwanted kiss than have no kiss at all.

The cult of demureness, chastity, and hard-to-get is an insecure man’s creation.  It is all well and good for a man to sleep around; but a woman’s vagaries can very well end up in a pregnancy not of her husband’s making, and then where would he be? Obliged to care for both an unfaithful wife and a bastard child.  No thank you.  While the Saudis have taken male insecurity to the extreme – burkas, women only quarters, lock-and-key security – it is a very visible reminder of what awaits the unaware spouse.

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If it weren’t for men’s physical strength – the foundation of income-generation as well as spousal fidelity – women would be as profligate as men.  Handel Brachman and Nancy Boothby grew up before the age of feminism when women were finally able to throw off their traces and pull on their own, so it was felicitous and advantageous for both of them to meet as 10-yr olds.  Handel learned about female sexual desire early on, and Nancy learned quickly about men’s easy complicity.  Men’s wholly irresistible sexual urge was a thing to be used to advantage – to put the brakes on when it did not suit them, and to floor the accelerator when it did. 

Of course sexual harmony is not as easy as all that.  The two lessons learned in the woods had to be followed by many others before Handel could navigate adult sexual waters.  He had his first dose of female perversity when Marta Phillips went off for the weekend with Timmy Brixton, an unlikely candidate but a wealthy one, with a Porsche and a summer house.  It was her way of corralling him.  He would be so happy to have her back after her affair with Timmy that a weekend with a dud – especially at his place on the Vineyard – would be worth it if it could close the gate on his adventures.

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Pregnancy ‘scares’, intimations of sexual improprieties, and suggestions of sexual insufficiency – are all good lessons.  Going with women was not as easy as Handel had thought those many years ago in the woods.  Women are far more complicated – and interesting – than men; and life with them will not always be smooth sailing.  One has to keep one’s vigilance up if not one’s guard.

D.H. Lawrence better than any other writer understood the dynamics of sex.  At its best it would be a complementarity of wills, of dominance and submission by no means a one-way street and central to sexual expression.  Women in Love is a long, windy tale about four lovers looking for the sexual harmony that Lawrence first suggested in The Rainbow and completed in Lady Chatterley’s Lover; but it does fix sex within sexual dynamics.  While Lawrence was never indifferent to social class and its influence on sexual pursuit and behavior, it was far less important than the much more indefinable element of will – a desire to dominate or submit; and as importantly to find a sexual partner of complementary desires.

None of the men in Women in Love come out well, and Gerald dies alone, frozen on an Alpine mountaintop.  Mellors the gamekeeper finally has his sexual epiphany with Connie Chatterley, but it doesn’t last, and their life together, only hinted at in the closing paragraphs of the book, will not be a bed of roses.   Lawrence’s men all cast their lot with women far more complex than they, more determined, and more able; but could not resist so doing.  Only when they get caught in the warren of their lovers’ impossibly twisted sexual desires and find no way out, do they realize they had gotten trapped in it.  They had no way of knowing because their own sexual demands narrowed their perspective and limited their vision.

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Only one character in Women In Love, Loerke, understands women and how to get from them what he wants.  He suffers from no philosophical, moral, or physical uncertainty. He is beyond good and evil, amoral, and unapologetic about it. His appeal to both Ursula and Gudrun is unmistakable. In this passage, Gudrun thinks about him.

To Gudrun, there was in Loerke the rock bottom of all life. Everybody else had their illusion, must have their illusion, their before and after. But he, with a perfect stoicism, did without any before and after, dispensed with all illusion. He did not deceive himself in the last issue. In the last issue he cared about nothing, he was troubled about nothing; he made not the slightest attempt to be at one with anything. He existed as a pure, unconnected will, stoical and momentaneous…

Handel learned this lesson as well, perhaps the last in his notebook because of its finality.  Yet there was too much simplicity in him to be a Loerke.  He was as amoral, but less inclined to use his amorality as an instrument of sexual power.  Yet he wanted to be Loerke, for although Loerke was physically unattractive and intellectually diffident, his absolute confidence and unquestioned sexual potency made him irresistible to women.  Loerke connected with women on a far more essential, primitive level than Handel ever could.

There is a delicate balance between suspicion and trust.  Too much looking around corners and under beds leads to too many blind sexual alleys.  Too much trust, and too many noses are left wide open and men taken to the cleaners.   Handel was always fair – not to the women in his life necessarily, but to himself.  Circumspection, confidence, and acceptance were all part of the bargain.

Every man remembers his first love, and since Handel Brachman’s happened before he even knew what was what – when Nancy Boothby asked him to take his pants down – he could never forget it, nor did he want to.  Nancy sat next to him in school the day after the woods, so close together in the auditorium that their legs touched.  She smelled fresh and clean, like talcum powder and lilac soap, and she was wearing the same dress that she had worn in the woods.  He noticed a bit of dried oak leaf on her dress that she had not seen and remembered how she had put her clothes neatly in a pile on a mossy patch under his father’s favorite tree.  How could he ever forget that?

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