Pretending us

Why do we make this big deal out of this simple and absurd thing that two bodies do?

Published August 20, 2001 7:06PM (EDT)

I seem to have lost my virginity again, to be known in a new way. It's a little too exciting and sophisticated, a little too heady. I am as fragile and innocent as a ravished child. I am not ready for an affair. I should wait until I grow up, but at 43, I realize that might never happen.

I can't quite go with it, keep trying to make this something other than it is. I want him to be "the one," but it's probably just sex, and not even great sex at that, inhibited by paunches and difficulties and guilt ... and yet infused with so much tenderness as to be terribly, terribly serious, a profound meditation and a re-parenting all in one. I hold onto him and sigh with relief, relax into shudders of comfort and comfortableness at long last, relax into the arms and chest of this man who thinks he loves me.

And I keep wanting our relationship to be deep, but it's really just about eating and copulating and discussing mundane things like my latest job interview or what he made for his kids' dinner last night. We avoid the tough stuff, like when is he going to be free to be with me and when am I going to get a job ... why doesn't he get his teeth fixed and why don't I go to the gynecologist. And when we don't avoid these topics we get angry and scared.

We don't really know each other, don't really understand each other. I don't get what he does for a living. He doesn't get what must seem to him my bizarre spiritual life, always running to this teacher and that method. How can I tell him of my lifelong lack of Mother and my quest for that love within myself? And how can I know his pain of youthful dreams destroyed or deferred, his guilt over children and failed marriage and no happily-ever-after?

I just want to be me with him but I can't do it. I can't be me and be his sexy, vibrant, desirable woman because I'm damaged and past-it ... because I carry my shame inside like a festering tumor undetected but murderous ... because I have to grit my teeth and bear down for every little blip of pleasure ... because I have to become someone else in my mind, someone more pleasing to the eye and ear. I have to lie back and talk myself into taking in the tender and insistent caresses of my similarly aging and damaged lover. I make sounds that are not my sounds, gestures that are not my gestures, speak words that are not my own. Sometimes I pretend we are both someone else, two someones with more beauty and sweeter breath and less story. Mostly I must pretend he is someone who sees me as me, not as some fantasy he likes to pretend I am, just as I am pretending him, pretending us.

I don't know; maybe this is what I am, maybe this is the man I love or am destined to love. And maybe when I purr at him that I love him, I am me, and I am a loving woman, loving a reflection of myself, loving myself. At times I want to melt into me, the me that is beyond this body and this brain that thinks too much, beyond this drowning and this drama. In this animal act we reenact I can at times dissolve into a pool of me, here and not here, playacting that what I want is this silly friction and pounding when all I really want is the bliss and the peace of me reflected in the Other who thinks he loves someone who thinks she is me.

And really it's just another story to add to the slush pile, leaving me exhausted, unsure, violated and yet untouched. Why do we make this big deal out of this simple and absurd thing that two bodies do? Why is one way stranger, or more significant, or more normal, or less sick, or more desirable, or more adventurous, or less fun, or more intimate, or more erotic than any other? Why don't we attach this way to eating or defecating or blowing our noses? Is it because it takes two or more to accomplish this biology? Do birds that vomit food into their young attach this emotionally wracking drama to that intimate act? As a young robin, would I wonder where the maternal robin ended and I began? Would I feel invaded or new ... comforted or scared? Would I gain or lose myself?

By Carol L. Skolnick

Carol L. Skolnick is a writer in New York.

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