An Imagined Encounter: Can You Catch Feelings Without Losing Your Soul?
She and I happened to talk at a party. My wife laughed with other friends while her date chatted up two twenty-five-year-olds by the snack table.
As we talked I kept noticing her cleavage in her low-cut dress. My wife glanced over and gave me that extra-bright smile she gives when she sees I may be interested in someone. Ah how I love her!
As Angie and I continued to talk I knew she was aware of my appreciation for her cleavage. Her date had glanced over enough times that it was clear he had noticed us talking. She’d made eye contact with my wife — at one point I saw the two of them lock eyes — my wife giving her that radiant smile. Wow, it seemed like everyone around us was supportive: the man she was with actually had a smirk on his face as he pursued his conversation with the two recent college grads at the food table. This was so different from the protective, one-man-one-woman world in which I’d grown up!
And why shouldn’t they all be okay with me and her talking? When we first spoke I thought, “She’s so attractive.” And, “Why would anyone care that we’re talking here?” But as it turned out, everyone seemed to take note, and each to make their own silent assessment.
After the round of being observed by our friends I felt a renewed desire to glance down Angie’s dress. The hostess of the party and her husband had already both come by, she asking whether we’d tried the champagne, drawing our attention to my wife standing by the drink table looking over at us with her mischievous smile. The hostess’s husband came past at a diagonal on his way to the secondary snack area on the coffee table in front of the TV. He complimented her on her dress, his hand on my shoulder.
With more than a desire to glance I’d become ever more aware of her dress open in front of me while I focused on the people around us. Without looking down I could see she’d developed a sheen of sweat between her breasts. I talked with her, keeping my eyes on her face, yet noticing the sweat, the glow of her.
how is nature not only our home but our owner — we who have wandered so far yet never escaped?
If I pushed forward in some way, such as proposing a later meeting with me or my wife, then something would happen I was sure. I looked at her and wondered what. She looked back at me in a way that communicated — what did that look say? I thought it said she wondered too. It told me there wasn’t a predetermined outcome if I threw her in with my mischievous wife. They might get along, yet it would change this moment forever. I wasn’t ready to let go of this moment alone with her amongst our friends.
The thing I love most about my wife is she understands all of this better than me. Her looks were of encouragement, not selfish anticipation for herself or us. And therein lies her magic. She’s the most selfish person I know yet she achieves her goals without putting demands on others.
if we demand others serve our perceived interests we all lose
I felt empty. I knew everyone around me, including my wife, was having their own way. My wife watched me pull back from advancing a proposal, saw me realizing everyone was watching, saw me seeing they wanted to see what the woman and I would do. At least that’s what I thought my wife saw, as she always seems to know what I’m thinking, and I could see her slyly watching. Sly wife, how do I deserve you?
I’m sure she wanted to see the chemistry unfold. And that, paradoxically, left me feeling empty and lost at the whims of others, at the whim of my own body. Lost, not so much in chemistry with this woman with her cleavage and its sheen of sweat, but in something bigger and also smaller. Lost in the eyes of those around me, lost in the blindness of self-doubt. I felt there was nothing I could do to attain independence. Far from having cake and eating it too, I was eaten by those around me and myself left with neither cake nor the power to eat it.
when there’s no more need for lies there is no more false self…and we lose all the direction we thought we had
The moment I pulled back, feeling despair of doing anything separate from another’s agenda, I saw her eyes flash. I took it as anger, or perhaps fear. Anger at this world with its unachievable expectations of relationship, its endless disappointments? Fear it won’t change, that we’ll all remain alone and suffering, longing for connection we‘ll never feel. I saw her see, then, how helpless we were, surrounded by people in relationships with us who served themselves. Who wouldn’t let us be ourselves. Yet those others wanted us be an “us.” Not standard and yet that is exactly the standard that every TV show demonstrates, the standard of decadence, of betrayal, of submission to the carnal against society’s edicts. The world outside this room would not condone (although it would obsess over) an “us” developing that wasn’t a publicly declared and (at least serially) monogamous couple.
if the only “us” we’ll allow is a sanctioned couple, then we’re never free to be ourselves, only to serve an image we try to project
“Angie,” I said, “Earlier I thought how nice it would be if we spent the evening talking.”
Her look went from flashing anger to distant. I’d gotten her to refocus, shocked her into analysis with these words. Analysis became an escape from the despair of knowing our relationship was doomed because we did not fit the dominant paradigm.
“When you were talking with me…” she said, “I felt the same.”
Points for her, she’d taken the analysis escape and dived straight into sharing feelings. Now we might as well have been lovers known to all around, lovers with shared intimacies made public. An “us” that could either tear and distort the relationships around us, or…what? The new “us” could be kept as secret as possible, or it could be treated by all as non-existent, a blind eye turned, the elephant in the living room of which we don’t speak. Or — alternatively — it could be summarily executed, perhaps each of us shedding a single tear as this precious “us” is, by choice, thrown away, destroyed quickly as the bastard child that would have spoiled the nest if allowed to live.
What if there was another path not involving denial, avoidance or destruction? What if this other path had some of the denial, avoidance and destruction that popular culture tells us must accompany any “we” generated outside a designated monogamous pair, but those negatives were not the dominant forces?
What if the “we” was so joyful in its being that others nearby could bask in the happy glow of it, yet this new and additional “we” didn’t attempt to assert power over the pre-existing monogamous pair-bond, instead happily accepting its subservient role?
What if each time the new “we” celebrated its being there were tears of joy and sadness both at the intensity of that relationship and it’s extreme limited role. Every time the two met they would confront the inevitable end of their relationship through the final death we all will face brought into stark relief in the imminent parting of this submissive “we” that holds no earthly sanction to protect it and must be severed again and again by other, greater priorities.
In the moment it’s good to be in communion with another, though both death and the demands of life strike quick and certain blows against it. So what: to be with another person in the moment holds value untarnished by remorseless time nor, circumstance.
We’d handed each other the keys to our respective kingdoms by admitting we’d both wanted to spend the evening talking. The unexpressed had ended and we’d bonded. Through expressing our mutual desire to extend our connection we’d changed it. Now we had become a “we.” And oh, zing, I felt the limerence of that energy crushing to my core.
This is where the world stops, where a lifetime of commitments come into being, children are prefigured, families are made and broken. Let’s be honest. It’s that zing. Zing to the heart, to the body core: more important than orgasms, marriage vows, birth or death. We fear its power and spend a lifetime consciously avoiding it while unconsciously knowing we would die to feel it. The truth of everything we can be, our sacred selves awakened for a moment, in the glow of this ultimate social lubricant…
can we build on this?
“I can’t stop noticing your cleavage,” I said, stating the obvious.
It was something I would not have said before we talked about wanting to keep talking. And it is with those words I lost awareness of my wife, the host and hostess, her date, the two twenty-five year olds. The details of activities around us narrowed and receded down a funnel of sound.
I lost awareness of Angie’s cleavage and saw only her eyes.
A different escape, escape into the physical. The drug of connection ironically binding us despite so little knowledge. Connecting us to our own desire for connection, leaving the other a cypher — perhaps to be worked out later.
engagement through the physical brings diminished mental perspective on that same physical, and we’re lost in something we can’t necessarily later recall, until we lose ourselves again…
This was the show the others had wanted to watch. Better than TV…look at the two losing themselves in fantasy, but…together.
I know my wife had anticipated the moment, not because it disconnected us. No, this is her greatest mystery. My wife is like a song catching you and taking you away from yourself yet also into yourself. The moment I lost awareness of her I became hers. Because our actual connection takes place outside the built-up agendas. My actual connection with my wife, as opposed to a lot of false images. As distracted as I was from her in that moment by sex, forces outside my construct of myself, outside my conscious mind, still she could manage the tour while Angie and I were lost in it. My wife wielded power from sometime before humans thought of themselves. Her power from the most exquisitely complete letting go I’ve ever seen. Her connection with me trumped this primal connection with this other woman. How was that? Not how but why. Not why but if. It did. And that was that.
In such moments my wife comes into her element, while our relationship stands outside time. It’s a truth that owns me. You could say I’m running away from her into relationship with another woman. Yet you would miss an essential something…if she’s encouraging me then I’m not running away, and, this is the hardest part…if my wife is essentially giving me up, again and again, then every time I come back to her I am more truly hers than I could ever have been under compulsion, even a self-proclaimed compulsion in service to all that society trumpets and enforces. I’m so hers that it surpasses all understanding.
Surely it isn’t any knowledge of mine that matters. Through letting go, my wife wields or is wielded by a force turning even sex inside-out, making it a spectacle, a tool, and a window, but not a goal. Sexuality can’t any longer be a shame-filled escape from one moment into another. Instead it becomes a window onto our unique and tormented souls.
thank God someone believed sex was more of a perspective than an action, an awareness than a goal. When we open our eyes, is our goal seeing or do we just see?
When I said the thing about Angie’s spectacular cleavage, which she no doubt knew few men could but gape at, she froze. I wasn’t looking at her cleavage, but at her eyes. I didn’t look down to emphasize my words, didn’t look away from her eyes, didn’t tense up or shy away, didn’t leer, didn’t smile. After a few moments looking at me she began to laugh. “Yes, well,” she said, “that’s the idea.”
A step towards friendship. My wife may have wielded an ultimate power I would never understand, but I also had power — within the iron dome of time — the power of self-possession. Knowing I’m lost, knowing others control everything, aware that Angie and I are truly falling in love with our own neurochemicals, not yet with each other, I have the power, and sometimes the grace, to show respect towards my counterpart (this wasn’t mine and my wife’s first rodeo). The cleavage discussion was a time-bound effort at friendship. Angie, to her credit, saw everything. She’d seen my wife’s look, felt the chemicals taking over, felt her mind and emotions carrying her swiftly down a narrow channel, choices receding. She saw me lost in this same way. Caught in a net, there was no hope for us and yet, within this net we could still befriend each other, if we chose. And so it goes for those of us who live within the dome of time…
Friendship? You say. Looks like you’re trying to lose yourself in a physical relationship without regard for your loved ones or even for this woman as a person.
So, you know what I seek, then? You presume that by talking with Angie I sought escape from myself and my wife and my friends. Maybe you assume I sought that in a way that wouldn’t bring true friendship with Angie, or further my alliance with my wife. All this seems dangerous, you say, and if only I chose to deaden myself to it all maybe I could live a life cut off from such risk.
If we were different people that could all be true. Yes, in the moment I lose myself in this woman. And, yes, to be honest, I seek escape from myself, my wife, and my friends. And letting go of the bonds of friendship, marriage, even self-identity feels oh-so-good even while a voice in my head says, Beware, you may cause harm to these bonds through letting them go. Yet…
is letting go so bad?
The zing of sexual attraction builds a connection which can be used at least two ways. As a commitment structure, or as a context for friendship. Think about whether this is true: what if our society is wrong that sex destroys friendship unless contained by commitment? What if instead sex builds connection different than shared feelings or verbally-stated commitments, or maybe more similar to shared feelings and not at all similar to verbal commitments? What if sexuality is appreciation, acknowledgement, communication and submission. But not, in and of itself, commitment.
And what if the sexual drive actually could encourage friendship? People talk about resisting the drive towards sex and love, towards unsactioned and encumbering attachment with others. Be friends and keep it friends — even “friends with benefits,” as long as it’s just friends. We all know friends with benefits doesn’t last, right? What if we have it backwards? What if the friends part is the higher calling? What if setting up a marriage is less important to our souls than enjoying friendship? If the connections of friendship and sexuality are not things we manage but gifts outside our control? Easy for me to talk—as I’m here trapped in time and doomed to death, my immortal soul nothing but an echo in a cosmic mind I’ll never know! “Make friends,” a voice whispers in my head. And before I can stop I respond, “But what if I fall in love?”
our verbal commitments may actually get in the way of friendship and sexuality — killing two birds with one stone, bringing death and leaving only death…
Instead of keeping it just friends, as though friends were the lesser thing, and the greater achievement was becoming lovers or spouses, the true height of relationship, we could just focus on being friends. What if becoming friends is 90% of what matters, and designating ourselves lovers or spouses are roles we assign to explain friendships, to try and manage what was there before we got started trying to manage it? If the love or the loving ruins the friendship then were we ever cut out to be friends at all? Or the other way around: did being lovers or spouses cause personal and social disturbances that got in the way of a friendship because society told us these were more important things than friendship? Were we lost in distraction from what actually matters, caught up in a play, the drama of which kept us perpetually off balance and seeking but never finding.
we’re all untamed — that’s the only way we remain human and alive. Yet we spend our lives trying to either tame or to release our passions. We fail at both and blame ourselves and each other…
The night I met Angie was good. What happened after that in the following days, months and years is important — because a connection like this changes your life. Did Angie and I become friends? Did we have a brief sexual relationship that our friends and lovers delighted in talking about and expressing their feelings about? How did we all feel about each other six months on? Twenty years on?
Still, the night stands alone, not only for the tingling excitement of connecting with someone new. Also because when one is alive one appreciates connecting with another. A sweating cleavage draws our attention, or the attraction takes shape some other way. When a person enjoys the company of another they enjoy what they find attractive. Aspects of others that we find attractive matter.
That’s what my wife knows, or has faith in, from outside the circle of time. It isn’t that people are attracted to each other and we have to manage that power. As well try to manage the gods! We can’t ultimately manage it because it’s bigger than we are. And that is all right.
Thank God my wife accepts this, understands it better than I. Far better, for I am but a lost soul walking the beaches of time and she’s a Valkyrie, her commitments outside time, letting her to accept her relationship with me as a gift, not as something to own or control. Her trick isn’t control, it’s the opposite: in letting go she ensures that anything or anyone who stays with her is hers. Yet one thing even my Valkyrie wife, who dances with the forces of life and death, of fate, doesn’t have: my self.
And that is what matters. For as I have myself, and my wife doesn’t try to own or control me, so does she have me, because it just happens to be so.