Last weekend, I had a drink with an attractive banker — I’ll call him Tom. We sat on a banquette in a darkened, neo-classic speakeasy under the dim glow of baubled ceiling fixtures. We shared our history of sexual compartmentalization, and how our struggles to integrate our eroticism had permeated relationships, ultimately blowing them up, or causing them to erode, agonizingly.
Both of us had been in long-term relationships with vanilla partners and sex lives that shrunk down to a few positions and predictable maneuvers. Both of us felt that our partners would have freaked out if we divulged our fantasies, but neither of us had the guts to ask, and find out.
Once we found ourselves single, Tom and I arrived at a sexual crossroads: do we present our buttoned-up selves to new dates, hoping that we will either discover our mutual predilections or else lure them down the garden path to darker delights? And what if neither happens? What if, at best we’ve wasted everyone’s time, or at worst, stirred up hurt and shame?
Tom and I discovered each other on OkCupid, where every flavor of kink can be found in the cyber-smorgasbord. We had each crafted profiles telegraphing our sexuality — although in radically different styles. Hoping to avoid being discovered by conservative co-workers on the site, Tom put up a profile so discreet it bordered on cryptic.
Mine, however, is brazen. The photos are tasteful, yet sensuous; I have a Sex and Transparency clause encouraging suitors to be honest about their intentions; and my answers to those infamous OkCupid questions paint a portrait of a strong woman who likes sex edgy, and men who know how to throw down in the bedroom.
I told Tom about my slut-shaming incident, that a man had warned me I’d never find a good relationship — “good” being anyone’s guess — by being so overtly focussed on sex. I explained that any man who would find me slutty was no man I’d want to spend time with. My profile was designed, in fact, to weed out the slut-shamers and attract the like-minded.
Tom looked at me for a beat, his blue eyes unblinking. He gave me his slow, mischievous smile, the one sign that he was not entirely the preppy gentleman he appeared to be.
“That’s what I liked about you,” he said. “That you were so out there.”
I told him that was one of the gifts of being 51, that I was past the point of caring what other people thought — because if not now, when? Tom, however, was 36, and hoping to get married and have children. He told me most of his married friends had stopped having sex and he was afraid of the same lifeless fate befalling him. What if his wife lost interest in sex? What if she didn’t want the kind of sex he needed to have?
I could hear the longing and worry in his voice — longing for something meaningful and worry that it wouldn’t happen. He seemed tortured, actually, his stories of frantic obsessive sex that only emerged in brief relationships suggesting a person in near-constant battle with himself.
I suggested that he’d never find meaningful if he didn’t first show up as dirty, that I knew couples — happily, long-time married couples — who knew how to keep their sex dirty and their fights clean. I told him I didn’t know if I’d ever get married again, but I knew I’d never get myself in another relationship where I couldn’t fully express my sexuality.
“You seem so comfortable with yourself,” he said. “You seem like you know who you are.”
“Yes,” I replied. “And it only took fifty years.”
He gazed at me directly, his blue eyes shining in the dim light. After two hours, he was still sitting a gentlemanly distance from me.
“Shall we go?” he asked.
His lips spread across his face in that mischievous smile I’d already come to find endearing.
“Yes,” I said, smiling back at him. “Let’s go.”