Artist Date 39: Story of O (pen)

This Yom Kippur, this Day of Atonement (or At One Ment, depending on your school of thought), my Rabbi spoke about being open, and staying open – vulnerable.  To change.  To transformation.

story of oThis is a story about open.

I am anxious to write it.  It is so tender, so personal.  And yet…I have given voice to seemingly every other experience in this year following my divorce.  Specifically regarding the season of suggested “not dating,” and the process of creatively romancing myself on a weekly basis vis a vis, the Artist Date.

I am standing in front of a wall of condoms.  It is 11:30 a.m.  I need supplies.

I pulled into the Pleasure Chest on the way home from leading a Weight Watchers meeting – Artist Date 39.

I took a lover last week.

We are in wildly different places in our lives.  Not surprisingly, we want and need wildly different things.  And we are wildly attracted to one another.

He’s younger than I – which is brand new to me.  He captured my attention with a flirty quip in regards to my Artist Dates.  Something like “I’m not sure what these entail…but I qualify as an artist (I think), and I am free tomorrow.”  (Insert flush across my cheeks, across my chest, here.)

But I wasn’t.  Or the next day.  Or the next.

Until Rosh Hashanah night – the same date my divorce was final last year, on the Hebrew calendar – when the gods saw fit for me to tell a new story.

The days leading up were ripe with sexy texts and suggestive emails.  And our nights together made good on what had been promised in words.

Yummy.  Naughty.  Playful.  And then, Over.

“We can’t do this,” we agreed.  That while decidedly delicious, an ongoing entanglement couldn’t meet either of our more pressing needs.  And might even cause us harm.

Usually I would be devastated by such a fleeting romance.  But I’m not.  I see it all as a gorgeous transition.  A little poke (no pun intended) from the universe that I have opened myself up just a little bit more.  To sex.  To love.  To possibilities.

That’s not to say that I don’t miss the attention, being pursued, and getting to know someone new.  Yes, he is in fact, another artist.  Darling.  Smart and sweet.  But not “the one.”  At least not now.

This is new to me too.  Not trying to make him “the one.”

I used to insist, “this time is different.”  Until my friend Teresa gently pointed out, “It’s always different…and it never is.”  She was right.  It was the same story over and over.  Me believing that he, whomever he was at that moment, had the power to make me beautiful, desirable, whole.

My young artist didn’t make me those things.  He merely held up the mirror.

Being an addict, I (of course) want more.  But I am not acting on those desires.  I am respecting our decision.  Respecting him.  Respecting me.  Respecting us.  And trusting there will be more, with someone (s) else.

And so, I find myself standing in front of this wall of condoms, not for “us,” but for the future.

There are the usual suspects.  Trojans.  Kimono.  Durex.  Latex and non-latex.  Flavored.  Ribbed.  Knobbed.  And some I don’t know.  Plaid boxes.  Sir Richard’s.  Sounds fancy.

sir richardsI am certain any will do.  But for some reason, I decide to call in the experts.  I walk over to the glass counter.  On the other side is a woman with a mess of red curls, funky glasses and a great big smile.  Her name is Sara.

I tell her I need some help.  That I haven’t bought condoms in a while.  That I recently took my first lover since my divorce.  The first man I’ve been with, other than my ex, in 15 years.

“Congratulations,” she says.  “On the divorce.  And the lover.”

She comes around the glass and we walk over to the wall together, where she educates me on the finer points of my choices.  I am reminded of the years I spent at wine tastings, discussing the subtleties of nose and terroir.  Sara approaches our conversation with the same mix of knowledge, passion and joy.

This is what she tells me:

Latex isn’t what it used to be.  It no longer smells like Goodyear Tires when the foil is ripped open.

Stay away from the Trojans.  Too thick.

Pleasure dots are nice for both.  There’s a little pouch on the underside that creates friction.

One brand is nice.  Doesn’t taste bad.

“I’d stick with these,” she says, gesturing to Skyn, Kimono, One and Sir Richard’s.  “Or you might want to consider a sampler pack.  Includes a couple of dental dams and latex gloves.”

She leaves me to shop and reminds me she is available if I have any questions.

So many choices.  I remember coming home from Rwanda last summer, standing in front of the yogurt selections at Whole Foods and bursting into tears – overwhelmed by the abundance.  I feel a little bit the same way.

I pull down a couple of boxes and choose a variety pack from Sir Richard’s – purple and grey plaid.  Made in Boulder.  For each condom purchased, one is donated in a developing country.  A little altruism with my orgasm.  Nice.  I also grab a small box of non-latex Skyn.  I don’t have a latex allergy but, someone else might.

I take a quick spin through the aisles before I leave.  DVDs.  Vibrators.  Strap Ons.  Lube.  I grab a bottle of Sliquid and meet Sarah at the register.

She excuses herself from the couple she is assisting with harnesses.

She nods approvingly at my choices, runs my credit card through, and slips a flyer listing free workshops in the bag.  All of them have passed.

Before I leave, she tells me that she divorced more than 15 years ago, and more than made it through.  “I learned how to advocate for myself sexually,” she adds.  “It’s been great.”

I believe her.  Both on the advocating and on the great.  I’ve already opened myself to it.

Avoiding the Deliberate Manufacturing of Misery

2013-08-15 09.57.14Part of the “uniform” of my 20s was a black, suede backpack.  I was living in San Francisco, but bought it at St. Mark’s Place in New York.  Its contents varied depending on where I was going, but two things were a constant– condoms and a portable toothbrush.

These two items collectively served as a reminder that I was ready for anything.  And that the world was full of possibilities.  A sort of slutty message of hope.

I’m not in my 20s anymore.

And yet, I’ve been carrying around a handful of condoms in my bag – tucked into a zippered case, attached on a string – ever since my ex asked me for a divorce last May.

My friend Mary Kate noticed them last week when I was leaving her house, as I was pulling my keys out of the zippered case.  I saw her glance.  Not in a nosy way… just following my hands.

Busted.

I told her about the black backpack.  San Francisco.  The condoms and the toothbrush.  How I felt like anything was possible.

I also told her I felt like a 14-year-old boy who carries around a condom for so long that his wallet is now imprinted with a circle.  But that carrying them somehow reminded me that I’m ready.  Like a Boy Scout.  “Because you never know where you are going to meet someone…”

She laughed.  She always laughs – it is one of her more charming qualities – and teasingly said, “Right.  You’ll just meet some guy, bring him home and sleep with him?”

Hmmm…

She already knew the answer.  So did I.

Once upon a time, “Yes.”  But not anymore.

Not because I’ve had an ideological shift.  It’s not a question of morals.  Never has been.  Just the painful awareness – which I’ve written about at length – that I am not capable of casual.   And the guidance I’ve been given to avoid the manufacture of my own misery.

I learned that with Mr. Thursday Night last spring.  And with the Southern Svengali in the fall.

It’s not about the sex.  (Because we didn’t have sex.)  It’s not about ridiculously-devilishly-handsome good looks.  (Although both of them possessed those.)

It’s the connection.  The energy.  The emotional intimacy.  That’s the turn on…and what ultimately brings me to a physical connection.  I thought it was always my body moving too fast.  But really it’s my mouth.  My ears.  My heart.

I mentioned this conversation to a friend the next day.  She asked if it had occurred to me that every time I open that zippered case – which is several times a day, as I keep my keys in there also – I remind myself of the sex I am not having.  Or, more to the point, of the intimacy – both physical and emotional – that I do not have in my life right now.

It had not.

The deliberate manufacturing of my own misery.

She continued speaking but I heard little of what she said as I was stuck on this new idea.  I unzipped the pouch, pulled out the sleeve of condoms, walked into my bedroom and put them in the drawer next to my bed.  All the while, she kept talking.

“I just took them out of my bag,” I interrupted.

I added that should I find myself in the position where I “just have to have sex, right here, right now,” I can go to a Walgreens – most of them are open 24/7.

“Perhaps that would serve as a pause,” she replied.

Genius.

It’s been a little over a week since I took the condoms out of my bag.  And the world still feels full of possibilities.

Epilogue: In taking photographs for this blog, I noticed that the condoms had expired.  I promptly tossed them in the trash.