On a winter evening at a Yellowstone pub, a quartet of a certain age enjoyed an evening of beer and conversation. When this song began to play, both women simultaneously groaned with pleasure and memories of romantic eroticism and erotic romance, and I learned it had the same effect on them it had on me.
On an elementary school bulletin board, each of us had a rocket ship with our name. When the display was taken down, a girl wanted my ship but I destroyed it rather than let her have it. That’s some ridiculously obvious foreshadowing, but I swear it’s true. I’ve been a heartbreaker since I was in single digits.
Back in my prime, I was a good-looking guy with long hair, fit, funny and intelligent--when young and out of the mainstream, those qualities still easily outweighed a complete lack of ambition and not driving. Though I appeared to women as a potential bad boy, I was actually much too good for my own good.
I could have lost my virginity in a threesome with a couple at a party but walked away. Not from any troubling questions of morality which I struggled with in later years but because I didn’t like waiting while she kissed her boyfriend. The woman I considered my first girlfriend broke up with me because she felt I was holding something back from her. That was certainly true, because she had told me she wanted to get pregnant, but it would be just as true with every woman I’d ever be with.
In college I was still a boy although briefly engaged, still unaware of the power we all have, still adoring from afar, happy that beautiful intelligent women seemed to enjoy my company but never expecting more. On the edge of my leaving town, Suzanne stopped by the house to say goodbye and a farewell embrace ended with my hands on her jeans and her confession that she’d considered breaking up with her fiancée to go out with me, all a complete shock to me. I had a degree but I still barely had a clue.
The odd combination of 60s Catholicism, 70s feminism, and my parents probably eliminated any chance I had of becoming an open and assertive lover. I thought the best thing about Catholicism was Ellen’s ass a couple pews forward—that was all I ever believed in in that building, but a lifelong concern with ethics certainly took root there. Feminism left me so tentative about acting without a woman’s permission that one once angrily told me, “Don’t ask, just do it.” In my childhood home, passion meant objects flying and police cars parked out front. Little wonder that I became a guarded man who depended on technique rather than passion in all areas of my life.
Reading my journal from my early thirties (when I began writing it as a practice), sexuality was always in my life but seldom fully expressed outside the pages, despite seeing, even meeting, many women who were both interested and interesting. I was well aware of and enjoyed the attention I received while running bare-chested in shorts through Boston’s Emerald Necklace; I simply had no idea how to respond to it. After I’d already started making notes for this post, I found this in a 1990 journal:
Further discussion led into the sexuality of the situation and her past and my reaction to it and therefore into my own confused attitudes toward my own sexuality. I have an enormous amount of unresolved issues in that area, so many that I don’t think I really even have all the questions asked yet. What kind of boundaries do I want to have sex within, do I want to act on fantasies I have, is porn OK or should I throw out the little I have as I did with all I had about a year ago, who do I want to fuck and why, how do I express my interest to someone on the street, what is the difference between the days when I feel very sexual and the days when I have no interest, do I want long-term monogamy or short-term fun, which feelings are real and which are society induced, either as the almighty sex rules that I’m supposed to follow in my conduct, or as the corruption of true higher values I have?
And a couple days later:
I think the big issue sexually is that I’m torn between regarding it on one side as a very physical thing which should be free and casual and widely shared and on the other side as a very spiritually connected thing which should be treated as something very special and sacred. But the “down and dirty” type urges and fantasies where I want to fuck everything in sight are definitely a part of me too and I have no desire to pretend that doesn’t exist. I think I’d feel more naturally whole if I were able to act on that side of things more.
A few years later I’d replay that inner dialogue as an actual conversation with a woman on a park bench by Jamaica Pond as we decided whether to share a bed. And it was still playing out decades later in Yellowstone. Clearly, I never found my answers.
When I would somehow stumble into a relationship, I’d make up for lost time. Although one lover would happily tell me that with me, she’d finally found someone who could keep up with her, there always could have been more—more women, more variations. But I was often too busy putting them on a pedestal to put them in my bed. And apart from my self-doubts, I was also choosy, wanting to feel something deeper than chemistry. I needed a woman’s emotional connection far more than her body—when I went to bed with a woman, it was because I was seeking her pleasure, not mine. Eventually that led to feeling that sex was a chore, not a desire.
Although we would exchange a few emails fifty years later, I never really stopped running from the little girl next door who wanted me to kiss her to prove I liked her.