“Where have you been?” my friend Gina screamed when I answered my phone. The truth was that I'd been buried in an avalanche of deadlines and sex. Incredible, decimating sex. Sex in the hallway, the shower, on the porch, the bar, the bars tool, the living room floor, his office chair, at the foot of the bed ...
Until one night, when we just went to sleep.
That next morning, I woke up, somewhat panicked. What had happened? We'd just gone to sleep?
“Isn't it amazing to just cuddle with someone?” Rodrigo asked me, sitting up.
“Um, yeah,” I responded.
“Beautiful,” he said kissing my right shoulder. “Gorgeous.” He kissed my left shoulder. Then he got up to make coffee.
Meanwhile, I was completely freaking out. In a typically neurotic woman on the verge of hysteria moment, I decided that not having sex the previous night constituted a gigantic red flag. It was only a matter of time now before we stopped grooming, gained weight, left the door open when we went to the bathroom – all those things people do when they get comfortable.
Comfortable. There it was: that word that freaked me out. Comfortable.
Comfortable: adj. A state of mediocrity reached in a relationship based on mutual disinterest. Symptoms: lack of grooming; increased interest in the screens of computers, phones, and television; sexual neglect; boredom.
I told myself to relax. It was just one night. I was overreacting. Besides, it's not like cuddling and kissing shoulders indicates mutual disinterest.
A couple of nights later, we fell asleep without having sex again. Then again. At around this same time, I started having terrible nightmares – all different, but all clearly the same. Rodrigo and me in various locations, completely ignoring one another. Irrelevant to one another. So used to one another, we hardly existed. We were merely expected things – like the sun. Too hot some days, wonderful others, mostly ignored as it sits outside the window.
There it was. The destination of all comfortable roads we walk. I went into a panic. My phone was blowing up with calls from friends I'd neglected. Friends with great relationship dramas that needed my advice.
My advice? What advice had I to give? I was obviously insane. Logically, I understood the moments shared doing things other than having sex were valuable. Different, but no less enriching. Logically, I understood that this was a natural progression and nothing was really wrong. Logically, I knew the nightmares were nothing but my preoccupations, blown up into wide-screen torments by my fertile imagination.
But there was nothing I could do to control the emotional tidal wave of panic.
I had to see a visual representation of the things that made sense, the things outside the emotional debris. I needed data. With data, I could validate my fears or dispel them. With data, I wouldn't drown.
Before I go on, I have to confess something deeply neurotic. I'm obsessed with data. Before Rodrigo, I kept spreadsheets full of data. Text messages sent, texts received, IMs sent, IMs received, calls made, calls received, sex initiated, sex received, orgasms, time elapsed between sexual activity and contact, e-mails, tweets referencing something we did, comments on other media relating to our interaction ...
With this information, I made graphs which, when I cross-referenced my day planner, gave me a clear idea of what events precipitated what responses.
I could see what resulted in a passionate encounter. I could see the place where things “broke.” I could make informed assessments and predictions.
Shortly after beginning to date Rodrigo, I decided that having faith meant letting go of this behavior. But suddenly, I wanted the spreadsheets back. I was furious at myself that I had allowed weeks to elapse without collecting any data. Now, there would be a gaping hole in my charts and no real way to understand what was happening, where everything went wrong. I'd only be able to make conjectures.
I'd gone off the deep end and I knew it. I needed an intervention, so I answered the telephone. It was Gina.
“Where have you been?” she demanded.
“I'm sorry,” I responded. “I'm buried in deadlines.”
It wasn't entirely a lie. But it wasn't entirely true, either. It didn't matter. She was still trying to work out things with the engineer who didn't want to be exclusive. She'd finally decided to give him space and let him date when she encountered him at a friend's party – with another woman. She was falling apart.
I did the only thing I could: I listened and offered whatever insight I could. Then, I picked up a copy of Jacques Lacan's Ecrits and headed out to coffee.
Reading about the objet petit a, I became obsessed with the notion that the attained was essentially stripped of desire. There was no perpetuation of a quest in its fulfillment. The quest is paramount, and we'd completed it. There was nothing left.
Sitting in the middle of Peet's, I had an epiphany: relationships were the death of desire. The two were fundamentally incompatible.
I had to get out.
I went back to Rodrigo's apartment to pick up my things. I was ransacking the bathroom when there was a knock at the door. The groceries. I'd forgotten that Rodrigo had asked if I'd mind being here for their delivery. One by one the bags were deposited on the kitchen counters.
As I put items away, I discovered among his munitions all the things I liked – bacon, Kit Kats, Coke, apricot cranberry juice, tomatoes, cucumber, cilantro, mangoes, brownies. Things Rodrigo didn't like. Things he'd gotten specifically for me.
“Excuse me?” the delivery guy. Probably wanted me to sign something.
He handed me a bouquet of roses.
I signed the delivery slip.
I unpacked my laptop, plugged in and turned on instant messenger. Rodrigo was online.
“Roses?” I asked.
“Thank you for unpacking the groceries,” he responded.
Clearly, I am insane. A first-rank self-saboteur.
But it didn't make sense. All evidence I had suggested that desire and the urgency of its fulfillment died with continued exposure. Erotic tension could not exist unless something was lacking, some aspect of the Other. This was so clear that most people contemplated the death of passion over time as something completely natural in relationships.
And then I remembered something I already knew but seemed to have forgotten: that relationships are not solely about desire. There are other gauges, consideration being one of them.
I felt simultaneously silly and enlightened. The impending doom – part premonition, part internal predator – was still there, but I realized its exorcism would take far more internal work than I could do in one morning, perhaps even a year.
I decided something slightly unconventional: to tell Rodrigo what was on my mind.
He apologized for the perceived infractions.
“You do realize this isn't really about you, yes?” I asked him.
“OK, so long as you realize that.”
And then he said something people often say, but few of us really consider as a possibility: “I'm here for you, you know.”
When the animals knew the location of the food but it was inaccessible to them – and the human owners were naive to the location of the food – only the dogs could effectively engage their owners to help them gain access to the food. The cats simply kept trying in vain to get it themselves.
Before I got married, my aunt wrote my husband-to-be a letter, the first words of which were, “You do realize the woman you're about to marry is like a cat ...”
Trying and trying and trying in vain to do things myself. But relationships aren't something to be done alone.
Compelling. Could I be socialized to function as a team? Or is it true that a tabby can't change her marbling?
AV Flox is the editor of Sex and the 405 -- what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.
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