What do romance, sex and our creator have to do with each other? I was raised on conventional morality in the Presbyterian church. You know the deal: date, fall in love, marry, have kids, live happily ever after. This was the approved life plan for those of us in my middle class town. However, my life proved a bit more complicated than that.
To escape my difficult family life, I retreated into books and movies. Whether I was a born romantic or acquired the affliction, I don’t know, but romance was my obsession. Thomas Hardy’s Tess in “Tess of the D’Urberville’s” was my first romantic heroine, followed closely by Hayley Mills in “Pollyanna”. Other romance icons of mine were Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff in “Wuthering Heights”, Rhett Butler in “Gone with the Wind”, the inimitable Mick Jagger and Anouk Aimee in “A Man and a Woman”, where constant rain and the back and forth of the windshield wipers symbolized the hopelessness of true love. My favorite quote was from the insanely romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, “I fall upon the thorns of life, I bleed.” The only thing that made me laugh was slapstick humor, where the hapless, well-meaning fool always ended up hanging off the cliff or getting clobbered by something he never saw coming. I identified with Laurel and the Little Tramp. I fear I was a bit grim in those days.
I will confess right here that I did not learn to appreciate Jane Austen’s scathing wit until at least twenty years later. But as a movie fan, my wit and sense of fun were sharpened by the throw away looks and deadpan one liner delivery of actresses like Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard and Myrna Loy.
My approach to men and love arose from that fertile grounding, well-watered with tears of pain and hilarity. To want to go to bed with a man, he must first be attractive enough for me to want to drive with him in the pouring rain with windshield wipers beating their sad tattoo and make me yearn to toss off my clothes and inhibitions far, far from the madding crowd. In practice, this could mean anything. Often a man I met and dated didn’t seem sexually attractive at first, only interesting, until he did or said something that fired my passions. I have no particular style of man. I had affairs with not all that many men, but they were of several different races, sizes, ethnicities, professions and colors, and probably of many creeds, too. However, the only time religion entered the picture was when I dated a very attractive young man studying to be a Jesuit. We dated and argued. I was a romantic scientist who wanted to sleep with him, and he was, well, he was a Jesuit trying to convert me to anything resembling belief in God. Poor man. Neither of us succeeded.
Disco dancing provided a pretty good substitute for sex, when no man could please. I did a lot of dancing in those days to sublimate the desire I felt but could get no satisfaction for. But I was a child of the Sixties generation, a freewheeling baby boomer, the generation that liberated sex from the Playboy magazine in the closet, with mixed results. It had been my experience that a marriage without sexual fulfillment was a witches brew straight out of bubble, bubble toil and trouble, Lady Macbeth horror show. The magic pill, sexual freedom. Sex buffet. Search for who makes you satisfied, pleases your sensibility, and earns and can keep your respect and admiration and the marriage will be a happy one. May I remind you traditionalists that even Jane Austen has the father of Elizabeth Bennet advise her on accepting Darcy’s proposal, “Lizzy, I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband – unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger of an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”
Though I hadn’t read Jane yet, this was my creed and working hypothesis. When your affections and respect for your partner were worn out, your marriage, respectability and happiness were over. You had to find a man who you could always esteem.
I guess the whole sixties generation could be called a very sexy generation. We threw out the rules and pursued sexual pleasure in every way possible, in marriage, in groups, partner swapping, serial lovers, you name it, some one of us tried it and wrote it up in some magazine or book. Though I had a few affairs, eventually, I settled down to the idea that one partner who you found irresistible, who was someone you could admire and who shared you goals in life was the way to go.
Once I met Tom, we seemed to have checked off every box in the perfect love affair. I literally adored the man and everything about him. The man he was aroused and enchanted the woman I was, and it always seemed that he felt the same about me. He certainly gave every evidence of being a happily married man. Except one, it turned out. Fidelity. When, after thirty-five years of marriage, I found out that Tom had been constantly unfaithful and hidden it from me, to say that I felt deceived and misused would be the understatement of the millennium.
Tom and I found each other physically irresistible almost from the first moment. Finding someone sexy is a combination of many things. Many small, seemingly inconsequential things can completely kill desire. And you never know exactly what it is that may do that. The surrender of dignity and exposure of your physical self and your most ardent, naked desire, so necessary to having great sex, that, for normal people, mutual respect and trust are absolutely essential. I’m not including the people who get off on sexual fetishes, like deriving satisfaction by debasing their partner or debasing themselves. But I’m talking about a lifetime of great, lusty sex in a happy marriage.
Having worked with many beautiful people during my modelling days, and dated several men of surpassing physical looks, I knew that five minutes with someone who looks perfect, but turns out to be a jerk in some way kills all physical desire. Heck, it even kills your appetite for your dinner. The beauty effect lasts until the person opens their mouth. True intelligence and thoughtfulness are extremely sexy. I think that’s why people always mention humor as a desirable quality. Humor is one of the higher forms of intelligence. I guess it’s the ying and yang thing. If you can’t belly laugh at something, preferably yourself, every so often, you can’t be fully serious about tickling all the sexual pleasure out of your own and your partner’s body.
Tom had a terrific sense of humor. He ended up on a nighttime TV sitcom where they loved him. He got my jokes and got jokes that I hadn’t even noticed. And he could tell a joke. I’m funny, too, in a broader way, no pun intended. But it turned out that his sense of romance was even grimmer than mine. Sadly, he kept his disillusionment hidden from me. It ate away at his heart, until it killed him. Love is a letting go, a free falling. He could do that in the Army wearing a parachute and jumping out of an airplane, but he didn’t trust his love to save him. In a way, I guess romance is a parachute for the heart. Romance is a higher calling, and it's psychotherapy, it's an art form, it's an ideal to shoot for, it's what gets you through the day, it's what makes life worth living, it'll fly you to the moon, and it's what makes the world go round.