Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sins of Omission and Sins of Commission: My Not-So-Beautiful Flingette

I look forward to Easter because it’s like Christmas without the angst. The weather’s normally mild in Melbourne, the streets blessedly bare and silent, there are films in cinemas waiting to be seen. If I’m working I enjoy the break; if not, I suspend the feelings of guilt and envy that crop up during these times. I haven’t eaten chocolate for so long now that I’m almost oblivious to the foil-wrapped ubiquity of the Easter Bunny’s offerings. It doesn’t matter to me that everyone else is enjoying a chocolate feast (she says with not a tad of defensiveness).

As this Easter approached I was on the tailend of a rare flingette, with the Gentleman I wrote about months ago. We ‘bumped into each other’ on the naughty website again, and this time there would be no mucking around with the niceties. It was a strange experience, and a bit sad. I don’t regret it; but, as usual, this kind of limited encounter makes me acutely aware of what I don’t have, and what so many others do – a real relationship.

It was intense in its own way, but, ever slow on the uptake, it took me ages to realise that he – the co-flinger – was even more emotionally cut off than I was. I still have no idea what he thought of me – I didn’t receive one compliment from him, but then again, I don’t think I gave him one. We both held off any kind of self-disclosure, and approached the fling as if it was a series of one-night stands. Which in effect it was.

In fact, what I’ve come to realise is that he showed me something a bit disconcerting about myself.

At first his lack of questions about my life, and his lack of demand that we meet socially beforehand, simply seemed too convenient and lucky for words. (It was also a huge relief that he didn’t want to stay the night – I don’t sleep well alone, but with someone else in the bed the night’s a total write-off.)

I didn’t have to tell him about my food allergies, the circumstances of me working from home – he fitted in with my limitations, he fitted around me. It seemed a god-given gift to be able to just have the fling without him wanting to get under my skin, so to speak.

He was easier with this kind of arrangement than anyone I’ve ever known. As if that was the only way things ever were. As if this was how everyone conducted their sexual lives, impersonally, just getting on with it, and a polite chat afterwards to show that you had digested your food before getting up from the table.

But after the second meeting I realised that he hadn’t ever kissed me, not even a peck. I knew there must be a particular reason for that, that it wasn’t accidental. I asked him why on the third and last occasion, and he laughed in an embarrassed way, as if to say, ‘I knew this would come up sooner or later.’ He then confessed that he actually enjoyed the idea of the whole thing being totally anonymous. Not kissing me was a way to keep that fantasy alive, at least partially.

He had outplayed me. Asking for emotional space, for a level of the impersonal, I had received everything I’d wanted – and more.

But this revealed something about me, too – if he was a player, so was I. If I was uncomfortable with this level of emotional distance, then why had I picked him up on a website designed to facilitate just that? I'd never thought about myself as a player before, as someone who had sex for recreation. I’ve embarked on all my encounters with a search for love being part of the hidden agenda, even if the person concerned had no chance of fulfilling that particular brief. Of course I did the same thing with him, even against probability, but that’s certainly not how I acted.

It’s not that I have anything against sex as recreation; it’s just that experience tells me it’s impossible. Sex is an energy exchange, no matter how impersonally it’s carried out.

But I don’t think what I did was wrong either. I needed to do it, and even though I’m sad about not being in a relationship, I’m a lot less resentful and angry about it. Any kind of sexual oasis can have benefits that last far longer than the actual experience. I did have a good time, after all.

Yet his lack of self-consciousness amazes me even now. I can still picture him sitting cross-legged on the bed as I undress. It’s our second ‘encounter’.

‘It’s always awkward the second time’, I say. ‘The first time you’ve got nothing to lose, and later on you’ve gotten to know someone, but this interim period’s difficult.’

He looks mildly wondering, mildly curious, as if that kind of awkwardness is totally foreign to him.

‘So how do you get over it?’ he asks.

‘You don’t. You just have to live through it.’

Of course it couldn’t have continued to be casual indefinitely and after that particular, second episode, I was wondering if it could be something more, something long-term-ish, even if perennially low-key. But there were a few niggling issues (the not-kissing being one of them), and the crunch came at the following meeting.

We were sitting companionably on the couch afterwards, he was munching on shortbread and we were having quite a cosy chat about politics – intense political discussions were one of the things we had in common. Until ...

He was telling me about how BP had had backed a coup in Azerbaijan that overthrew the democratically elected government. I made a stock remark about BP probably being one of the companies funding the stream of climate denialism that’s now flooding the internet, not to mention the mainstream media.

He stared at me.

‘Oh no’, I said, smiling. ‘Are you …? Do you …?’

‘When scientists are disagreeing on a major issue, it’s time to step back and look at it objectively.’

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. He was, of all things, a Denier. To put it more politely, a climate sceptic.

Polite and urbane as we were both trying to be, we discussed it for a while longer, as I yawned exhaustedly. Secretly, though, I had, I hate to say, more or less dismissed him.

I know that that’s hopelessly judgemental, and judgementalism is one of my major faults. What I was judging was his seeming inability to judge his own sources of information. It’s not that he wasn’t reading up and investigating and finding out for himself – clearly he was. It’s just that, if he’d come to the conclusion that human-made climate change was a crock, he was clearly going to dodgy sources to get his information. It was this lack of discrimination about the quality of sources that made me question his – well, his ability to discriminate.

In my defence, I also sensed a determination to hold onto his views similar in strength to mine. There was no way I was going to argue him out of this position, even if I did have decades of peer-reviewed climate science on my side. My scientific knowledge is as tiny as the problem of climate change is grave.

I couldn’t help thinking it was the sort of dilemma that the comedy show Seinfeld would have dealt with if it had continued into the noughties. Picture Elaine entering Jerry’s apartment for the umpteenth time, looking decidedly dejected as he holds the door open for her.

‘How did your big date go?’ he asks in his offhand way.

‘It’s over.’

‘Over? But you’ve only just met him!’

‘He was a climate change sceptic.’

Despite this outcome, I still enjoyed Easter. It is after all the season of the blob, the festival of doing nothing, a time for the worship of sloth. In fact, Good Friday is the day of the year that it’s easier for me to slack off than any other day. It’s almost impossible to be productive on that day, but for me it seems downright sinful.

The air is so still. Everything’s come to a halt. The busy street I live on is quiet. Luckily I had prepared myself for this urge to languor. The evening before I’d been trawling around neighbouring suburbs at the Holy Thursday equivalent of peak hour (much less frenetic than usual) looking forlornly for a video store. The tiny corner one I usually go to, a five-minute drive from my place, had mysteriously closed, with a sad For Sale sign on the door. I hate that kind of change – when some tiny piece of your life disappears and you have to figure out how to replace it.

Blankness was calling, the world was closing in on itself, and I was going to need distraction. I finally figured out there was a video store even closer to me in the other direction, and when I finally made it there the place was buzzing with the uncultured young.

And what a depressing little place it was. Video stores are always a bit that way with their dirty white shelves and cheap nylon carpet and relentless fluoros. This place was particularly soul-destroying on an Easter Thursday because it had the most limited selection I’ve ever seen – a slew of cheap-and-nasty action movies and unfunny-looking rom coms that clearly never made it to the big screen, in Australia at least, their blarey, cartoonish visuals screaming out their lack of real content.

I managed to grab a couple of thrillers, my favourite genre, and after watching one on Friday afternoon I wept through the mushy but emotionally grown-up Young Victoria. How lucky Victoria was to find a lover she was nuts about, who also happened to be incredibly geopolitically convenient (he was the nephew of King Leopold of Belgium). Where was my Albert, or even my Albertina? Either would do.

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