The leaves of the aspen on the edge of the meadow scintillate in the breeze, flashing light and dark, light and dark. They mesmerize as they twist and turn on their unique hinge, doing a dance other plants and trees cannot.
Something has changed in me. I’ve suddenly become more relaxed. I’m less vigilant, less worried, less rigid. I’m more open.
Suddenly, I am less bound by propriety and strictures. They fell away of their own accord. They simply collapsed, in a poof of dust, through no fault or work of mine. In fact, I’ve been graced.
I had been retreating. Rapidly, I must say. Turning 50 last year was sobering. Turning 51 this year solidified it. I felt washed up, sad, watchful — waiting nervously for my sexuality to ebb away.
Then, a man approached me at a party. He crept up on me like a panther, appearing out of nowhere and melting into my personal space with an authority that left me limp, and mute. When we danced, he raked the back of my neck with his fingers.
Let’s just say, he had my full attention. I was riveted. I thought he would be an amazing lover. But when it took place, our encounter was unsatisfying to the extreme. It was “hot,” but left me cold. Because there was no care there. No regard. No love. The panther awakened me, and for that I am grateful. But, he was not a lover.
He, and men like him, are looking for sex, pure and simple. Easy, no-strings-attached sex. The problem is that no-strings-attached often means no-care-attached. And sex, or love-making, or amor, is nothing without care.
Even my teenage son showed he understood this when he said to me years ago, “Mom, sex without love is just gross.”
Many years ago, I saw a Japanese movie about two lovers who would meet in what in my memory appears to be a little paper house. I remember the sound of the shoji screen closing. I remember the secret universe these two shared. The sweet intimacy that existed only within the confines of this little space. Each of the lovers would arrive, and leave, separately.
When I was ten years old, I saw Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn in Same Time Next Year, and it stayed with me. These two met “for one beautiful weekend every year with no cares, no ties, no responsibilities.” The love these two shared bloomed because they only saw each other once a year. The space and distance is what protected their flame.
For me, a real — and precious — lover is someone I respect, whom I’m curious about and attracted to. One with whom I have history, and trust.
Not someone to have and to hold. I don’t want to have this person at all. No ownership. No strings. Just loving fun and exploration. With respect and regard.
For years, I struggled with my own nature on this topic. I didn’t want to be “stupid,” to be “taken advantage of.” I didn’t want to “give myself away” with “nothing in return.” I didn’t want to be “cheap.” These are messages from my Irish-Catholic mother, from our society, from the past.
They are not me, and never have been. I remember the scene in The Unbearable Lightness of Being when Daniel Day Lewis visits a new lover — a woman with fantastic lingerie. I remember her confidence and power, her shamelessness. I found her intriguing.
Now, at 51, I allow myself to have lovers. I am able to have lovers without castigating myself, for the first time. Without navigating a minefield of shame and uncertainty.
One of my lovers is someone I’ve known for years. We have mini-relationships whenever we’re in the same country. A couple of years ago, though, I soured on our connection. I ignored his advances for a year. He didn’t understand why.
Finally, I said, “B, you have to take care of your lovers. You have to show them care. I’m not saying you have to expose our connection. I prefer you don’t. But a secret look, a light touch, a wink, would go a long way to protecting it.”
He took that to heart. He was afraid if he was tender, he’d be misleading me. He was taking pains to “protect” me by making sure I understood he could not and would not make any promises.
Making love with affection is risky. It’s riskier than making love like a porn star. It exposes the heart. Which is what makes it love.
Now, B and I are lovers who love. We meet, we spend time. We explore one another’s bodies. We trust one another. We tell stories of our lives. This is a lover. We make love, we stay in bed, we chat. We play. We talk about ourselves, our concerns, our doubts, our fears.
We are both happier. I can see that he is too. But we will not be a couple. He is much younger than I am. And there are many other reasons we won’t be a couple as well. In a way, however, we are something stronger. I’ve already been in his life longer than most of his girlfriends have.
I’ve been listening to Joan Armatrading lately. She is unabashed, irrepressible. She sings of love — longing for it, enjoying it, reveling in it. She loves a lot, she loves deeply, she loves physically, and she is not in the least ashamed to admit it. I like that.
In Love and Affection, she sings, “I am not in love, but I’m open to persuasion. East or west, where’s the best for romancing?” The song makes me happy. It grants permission for us to hold love lightly, without heavy moralizing and dictates. To love, as in the action-verb sense. Go forth, and love. Choose to love. Look for love. Love the one you’re with, as Neil Young famously said.
She sings, “Little darling, I believe you could help me a lot. Just take my hand and lead me where you will. No conversation, no wave goodnight. Just make love — with affection.” That’s all that’s required. Make love, with affection. No need for fireworks, histrionics, heavy trips, guilt, shame, demands, pouts.
You must love your lovers. That’s all I’m saying. Be open-hearted with them, even when you know the affair “won’t lead to anything.” Make love with affection. “Really love.” Such a simple statement. And, like so many simple statements, profound. It’s do-able, when you’ve shed the skin of propriety and society’s judgments. I recommend it.