Now why'd I go and give away my underwear?

I met a boy in the woods and he was really cute -- but I didn't mean to do what I did!

Published July 18, 2005 7:20PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I recently did some traveling, where I met one of the most amazing people ever to stumble into my life. It was a complete coincidence, one of those romantic, impossible stories that make you catch your breath. I was traveling with a companion, and when we met these two free-spirited and generous young men, I informed them quickly and cheerfully that I had a fiancé at home. I led no one on, in any way whatsoever. To make a long story short, we ended the night rather late, and had to camp out at their impossibly beautiful house, rugged, close to nature, built from scratch. My new friend, let's call him K, was sincere, authentic, adventurous -- everything I ever wanted to be when I thought I could "live deep and suck the marrow of life" as Henry David Thoreau suggested. I told K that my intent was to stay true to my man at home, but he pleaded with me with the most beseeching green eyes to let him hold me, to which I consented, because it seemed merciful to a man so starved for love (and he was!). He then began to masturbate beside me, and later, he asked me for my underwear as a sort of a sensual souvenir.

No, of course I didn't give him my underwear (but I did!). That would be slutty (and it was!), and would betray the man I love most (I do, really, and he's much sweeter, smarter and, let's be honest, angelically beautiful than this fellow). Why did I do this? Was I just ridiculously tired (it was about 5 a.m., plus or minus a little jet lag). I mean, I didn't even let him kiss me when he pressed up against me. I pulled his hands away when they darted toward my breasts and hips. But why did I wriggle my hands down my sleeping bag and bring up that guilty little prize?

I was a late bloomer and am just now getting acquainted with the fact of my own alleged hotness, which is difficult for a recovering ugly duckling like myself. I just fall in love with people when they tell me I am cute and sexy and whisper sweet nothings in my ear. I know, I know, they're just lines. But when someone holds me close, and tells me these things, I sort of melt.

And now the repercussions. I feel just wretched. I feel like vomiting each time I think of what I did (and that's a lot of times every day). Then again I feel inappropriate giddiness when K sends me an e-mail or a text message. But worst of all is the queasy unease when my boyfriend, whom I adore, looks into my eyes. I've talked to my best friend and my therapist. They tell me the same thing: I transferred my wild crush on adventure, and on the beauty of this place, onto this person. So I should just rationalize and forget about all of it. Next!

But I can't. I'm so afraid of life now, of attachment, of nonattachment. The more I think I've gotten all of this figured out, the heavier it hits me when it swings back with all its weight, solemnity, giddiness and sickly sweet longing for that fork in the road I did not and should not have taken, but whose impression, and whose very existence, is burnt into my eyes and mind, and overcomes everything else I try to apply my energy to.

I know this was a little rambling, but if I sit down and edit it, I'll never get it off to you, and I really need a word of your advice. It would be such a balm to my frantic soul right now.

Out of Place, Out of Sorts

Dear Out of Place,

Well, you did something a little surprising and a little risqué and afterward you felt a little sheepish and a little disconcerted. That seems understandable. You may feel that this act means something more, however, that it indicates some unacknowledged direction your life may take. You may wonder what lies at the end of the road whose outline this act seems to faintly illuminate.

But what, if anything, is actually illuminated by this act -- certain desires that threaten your core sense of self? Is this really a sign that something unacknowledged lies just beyond your seeing? Or is it just that, like a noise in the night, it brings phantoms to life and sets the mind to worrying?

In any case, a little perspective will help. Since the search for meaning in life is largely a search for intelligible patterns, we have to ask: What pattern does this fit? What is its place in your personality, apart from being a random phenomenon?

Look at what we do every day as we go about our lives. Under the surface of our polite and orderly interactions with people are complex and fairly strong reactions, symbolic and instantaneous affinities. In the course of ordinary communication we tacitly enter into private understandings with others; we give each other pleasure with a joke or a compliment or just a look; with a glance we indicate esteem or intrigue; we flirt with each other's unconscious desires, without acknowledging what we are doing. We're not giving out our underwear. But the libido is hard at work. If you could scan a crowded city street for psychic activity perhaps you would see passionate flare-ups in the brain as pedestrians pass intriguing strangers. Or someone will touch you briefly on the hand and 50 years later you'll be lying in bed with whomever you lie in bed with, and you'll wonder: Who the hell was that and why didn't we meet, mate and marry right that instant? It might have been your destiny or it might have been a detour. You don't know. It's just phenomena, inexplicable and luminous, like grunion under a full moon on the Santa Monica beach. All these phenomena taken collectively make up the richness of consciousness. They signal that we're much more than what you see.

So out of all these daily phenomena, the endless parade of images, thoughts, desires, fleeting memories, which ones do we seize upon as emblems of who we are, and which do we consign to the random box? If you want to use this incident as a way of exploring what you truly want, sexually, that might not be a bad idea. Who could fault you for that? If you have somebody, a therapist or mentor, say, who can help you interpret all this, so much the better. (If your communication with your boyfriend is good enough, you could talk it over with him, but he might get all crazy; sexual jealousy tends to defy all reason!)

The important question is how to integrate or take ownership of this thing you did. Can I tell you what it means? No. You have to do that. It may be that all you wanted and all you were looking for was a little attention from this fetching young man. It may be that you just wanted to flirt and see what happened. It may be that you wanted a good story. Maybe you dared yourself to do it. We do things for all kinds of reasons. Figuring out what we're up to makes life interesting. I don't think you're in any great danger of, like, your personality disintegrating or anything like that. It was just something that happened. It's you, that's all.

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