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

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

God’s Greatest Irony–Unremitting Sexual Longing Well Past A Man’s Pull-By Date

Harold Levin had always been a man of intense sexual interest.  By no means a Lothario or Casanova, his life had nevertheless been punctuated – alleviated is perhaps the better term – by sexual escapades. 

Women had always been attractive to him – there was nothing like the trailing scent of perfume to turn his head – and they were aware of his interest.  His lovers knew that he was a man of sexual appetite and that they were not the only ones in his keep; but that ironically was his selling point.  Women wanted to know what it was that made him so appealing to so many of their competitors. 

Although many tried to wean him from his other interests, they were unsuccessful and ultimately disappointed.  Such was the nature of adventurous love – enticing at the beginning, disappointed and angry at the end. 

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All went along swimmingly for Levin without complication or consequences.  The tears and sobs always subsided, and the women to whom he was attracted were strong enough to stand on their own two feet, so only once or twice was he called out for his abandonment.  Levin was nothing if not honest, and had never made any suggestions of commitment or even favoritism; but women ignored this transparency, felt that he would eventually give in to their charms, and would be a permanent fixture in their lives. 

It was not to be, and although he never closed the door on the possibility of a long-term relationship, he was naturally reticent if not removed; and could not imagine anything more than a varied sexual life.

Konstantin Levin, Tolstoy’s alter ego in Anna Karenina, once commented on God’s irony.  God created Man as an intelligent, sentient, creative, humorous, and able being; allowed him but a few decades of life, and then consigned him for all eternity in the cold, hard ground of the steppes.

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Harold Levin saw an even more painful irony.  God had created men with an insatiable, unquenchable sexual desire, allowed a few decades of satisfaction, and then doomed them to a remaining life of frustration.  As he grew older he saw his sexual appeal fading.  Women were no longer fascinated by his special brand of virility – he had always been the pursuer, but a respectful and considerate one with a ‘feminine side’ which, women said, was a perfect complementarity, and he was ignored as a potential partner. 

There were those who saw opportunity in his decline – what older man, rapidly becoming a sexual supernumerary but with the same inescapable, driving desire as an adolescent, would not turn sugar daddy just to revive ego and turn back the clock?

Levin was no fool and saw the picks and shovels of the gold diggers before they had a chance to mine a seam.  Every man who has had a December-May relationship with a younger women feels transformed.  ‘An early Christmas present’ was the way one of his friends described it, an unexpected gift under the tree, and regardless of how the affair turned out, it would always be remembered.  So, he was tempted, confident enough of his negotiating skills to avoid messiness and to get in and out even before wiles were revealed.

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There were young women, he knew, who, thanks to their doting fathers, found older men irresistible; and regardless of the inevitable outcome, dived right in to doubtful affairs; but he wasn’t so lucky.  His sexual pull-by date came and went without any young thing’s head on his pillow, and he was left with only his incessant, irremediable desire.  He felt he had finally passed the threshold he had dreaded all his life – the point of no sexual return, the abyss of sexual nothingness, the final and irrevocable passage.

“Perhaps you should arrange a concubine”, his doctor had said, a still virile and sexually attractive man whose bedside manner, calm, reassuring demeanor, and Old World Brooklyn menscheit, had led many patients to his bed.  There was an irresistible draw to this Orthodox Jew who had long ago put secular ethics aside and went where the will of God took him.   Sex, particularly for the older man, was never to be a matter of geriatric longing, but an existential necessity.

For Harold Levin, it was a non-starter.  It wasn’t sex he was after, although he had to admit that alignment with the soft, lithe, young body of a young woman was appealing.  It was emotional engagement; and this no tart could provide; so he went home from the doctor’s feeling depressed.  The internist had hit the nail on the head, but unlike his professional advice about heart and prostate health,  he could not even begin to resolve Harold’s existential crisis.

D.H. Lawrence understood that sexual intercourse was the existential event of human life.  If a couple was lucky, they would have a mutually climactic psycho-physical moment – a spiritual union which was the perfect expression of human nature.  Everyone looked for this experience and few would find it; and yet the romantic idealism of the age and those following persisted; and Harold Levin felt its legacy.  He must, even at his late age, find his true sexual partner, yet it was not meant to be.

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“Granted, she's not my first love. Granted, she's not my great love. But she sure as hell is my last love. Doesn't that count for something?”, says Coleman Silk in the Phillip Roth movie adaptation of The Human Stain, a line that resonated with Levin because his last love was ten years past and fading.

Why should Mark Antony – in his early 50s at the time of this love affair with Cleopatra (old certainly for Rome of 41 BC but also for Shakespeare’s England) – behave any different than older men in general?  Antony’s colleagues, Philo and Demetrius, talk of his “dotage” in the first line of the play.  Octavius refers to him as the “old ruffian”. Enobarbus calls him an “old lion”. Yet Cleopatra seems not to have aged at all since they met ten years before; but only added to her youthful beauty and sexuality. 

Therefore, not only was Antony the lover of a beautiful younger woman, but one who could, at the end of this life satisfy all his life’s fantasies, and desires – all of which become more important when the reality of them is only a thing of the past.

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Most of Shakespeare’s sonnets are written about the older poet’s love for a youth many years his junior.  Like Shakespeare, most older men who have had a much younger lover understand how it is unique, special, and transformative. An older man can never return to love with a woman his own age without thinking of age, aging, and death itself.  No matter how much he may love his partner of decades, he can only see old age and the tiredness in her eyes.  The terrible paradox of love with a younger woman is that while the affair lasts, a man is young again; and when it is over he feels far older than he really is.

Older men wonder who belongs to the face in the mirror.  Our interior selves are no different than they ever were, they say, but when they see a face “Beated and chopp'd with tann'd antiquity” (Sonnet 62) they turn away. When men love a much younger woman, they do not see that old face in the mirror but a youthful one.  The suspension of disbelief is complete.

Levin’s friends with whom he shared confidences and his growing resentment of getting older and left on the sexual curb, told him to shift gears, relax, take up a hobby.

These friends must be hiding something, Levin concluded.  They couldn’t be that different from him.  They could not have been less adventurous in their youth nor less trapped by it in old age than he.   Their demurral must reflect an attempt to keep the lid on these disturbing memories not because they never happened.

Yet they were all by and large settled, accommodated, and happy enough stringing out their days rather than making something of them.  There had to be some worth in defiance, Levin thought – a refusal to accept a familiarly patterned old age even if it was unlikely – or was he simply stubborn and as ignorant as Tolstoy’s terminally ill Ivan Ilyich who refuses to accept the inevitable until it is too late?  All Ilyich’s well-constructed firewalls were for naught.  Weren’t his?

There is no good ending to the story.  Either Levin gives up and summers on the patio; or resists death stubbornly till the bitter end.  The first is capitulation, the second nonsense.  There seems to be no compromise, no Nietzschean will that keeps the old Ubermensch still riding above the herd.  Nietzsche was right but up to a point – very little assumed or concluded by a young man has any relevance for an old one.

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