Erotic Notion #23: A Marriage Counselour Reminisces About the Future
By Hapax Legomenon

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"So I, alas, my lady, sometimes roam
to seek in other faces you alone."
( Petrarch, Canzioni, XVI)

The woman I love is not the woman in my arms. My fiance is thousands of miles away, doing whatever entomologists do to write their PhD's. I'm not worried; Mary stays in touch; her handwritten letters are full of longing and anticipation. They give me strength and confidence about our future together. Mary was supposed to return from Brazil next month, but her last letter mentioned a three month delay. I remain patient; I've waited seven months; surely I can wait another three. Mary, as long as your heart stays with me, time and distance become meaningless. These past few months have been bearable but empty; whenever the apartment becomes silent, my mind drifts to thoughts of your voice, your laughter, your touch. I dream about your body and your lovely funny desire, the intimate details of our lovemaking, the feel of your hands inside my own. I spend every night fantasizing; I foster a secret fear that when you return, our passionate enthusiasm will have changed into something less remarkable. No, that cannot happen. I know you. But every time an unsteady palpitation of doubt seizes my heart, I wonder.

Mary, you are with me in my heart, even as I embrace Tanya. The two of us are sprawled on the floor with friends. It is a weekend party with the gang. We are laughing, telling jokes, drinking. Someone suggested group backrubs, and we broke off into male-female pairs, switching for a while, then settling into semi-permanent partners. The whole thing was innocent enough; we were just relaxing, not trying to initiate some orgiastic ritual. But a kind of promiscuity was in the air. We were just out of college, unattached though not eager to fall in love. We enjoyed pleasures directly and without complications. We lived life as though it were some simple script with simple emotions; we played the game with enthusiastic agreement.

I eventually settled with Tanya, and we took turns kneading one another's backs. You remember Tanya; she was Julie's roommate: the tall thin girl who liked rollerblading. She had long dark hair, a relaxed, smartalecky smile and nimble hands that pressed firmly against the curves of my back. Before this, we had only exchanged a few words, but now we had time to talk and knead simultaneously. We talked about the usual things: movies, friends, the city. We really had little in common; she liked the outdoors and complained about her accounting job. I liked her though; we were comfortable together. And yes, she looked desirable in her shorts and T-shirt. I could hear and even feel her breath behind my neck and occasionally, her naked thighs brushed against my knees. As I put my arms around her to massage her back, I imagined having complete freedom to caress her any way and anywhere; she was already close, and I had only to reach down a few inches to give the situation an erotic meaning. As we talked, Tanya smiled and nodded her head, closing her eyes and going off into a trance. When she opened them again, she laughed and offered to switch places. She kneaded my shoulder blades slowly. Again I felt her breath against the cotton of my shirt and even the outline of her curvy bosom against my back. Someone at the party passed around a bowl of chips. I took some and handed the bowl to her. As we switched places again, someone made a joke about what would Mary think about this hanky-panky? Everybody laughed. Tanya asked about your bug research. Surely she knows about our engagement. But that didn't change how she treated me; I represented the safety and stability of the unthreatening male. She allowed me so close to her beautiful body because she knew I'd never dare to make a pass. Still, she must have sensed what effect her presence had on me, the nervousness and excitement of disguised desire. She flirted with danger without consciously willing anything unseemly to happen. Perhaps she secretly wished for me to act out some desire. Perhaps she wanted a relationship, or merely the gratification of rejecting a man who'd give up his fiance for her.

That's my professional analysis. Mary, do I sound like a marriage and family therapist yet? Hopefully by next year I will. Only four weeks of clinical training remains, and then I can take my licensing exam. When you see me next, I'll be teaching people to overcome unhealthy patterns in personal relationships. Tanya will be the first of many dysfunctional women I'll run into. She seems drawn to people who give her sexual attention but who won't (or can't) reciprocate. It's sad. But terribly alluring. Don't worry, Mary, I'm not falling under her spell. But I can't help be aware of the erotic possibility this woman was presenting. Holding Tanya in my arms, I realize that the girl I loved was not always the girl I desired, that the inner desires for another could in fact be an obstacle to love. Mary, the first time we embraced was a holy moment for me; something had changed; something new and hopeful and magical had come into being when our lips first touched; I found peace with the world and cancelled all metaphysical complaints; life suddenly seemed just; daily annoyances became things I no longer worried about.

The beauty of loving comes from the act of teaching your lover how you wish to be loved. Although I fell into you rapidly and easily, I recognized that our relationship would never encompass all my desires; when we made love, I became aware of a point in space outside our relationship, like a point in space outside a circle. I could ignore it and try turning away, but I still had to acknowledge its existence. This point in space was a desire for something, someone, whatever it was, which you could never satisfy. This point in space was the part of myself that never compromised or apologized or felt satisfied. It was the part of my heart which will never belong to you (or me) and you will try constantly to uncover. This point in space is my lust, my secret self, my longing for what you cannot be and cannot do. Even if I embarked on some Casanova-like quest to find (and sleep with) the perfect woman for me, I would notice — maybe not on the first night, or even the second — the same point in space appearing in peripheral vision, hovering above me like a star.

Mary, when I am with you, I am always thinking of that imaginary point in space above me. And when I am with Tanya, you — and only you — are that point of space I dream about.

Conceived, 1990. Written January, 1995.

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The beauty of loving comes from the act of teaching your lover how you wish to be loved.
Annie Swynnerton, Cupid and Psyche, 1891
Annie Swynnerton, Cupid and Psyche, 1891
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