The physical contact remained— “remained” being the key word.
In our Dealbreakers series, exes report on the habit, belief, or boxer brief that ended the affair.
She was a lithe, stylish creature who came into my place of work every day. She didn’t walk so much as she floated, high in the clouds upon tall platform heels, six feet tall if she was an inch. Not even out of her teen years, she boasted the poise and presence frequently reserved for successful, driven adults. Every day, her visits were a blessing and a curse: She brought a little nervous excitement into my otherwise dreary existence of sulking behind an espresso machine and glaring at customers over a copy of Stranger In a Strange Land, but the mere presence of a beautiful woman reminded me of my own perceived shortcomings.
I don’t remember who finally asked who out, but there we were at the local Mexican joint. She retained her natural elegance while eating an overstuffed taco. I just tried to keep from wearing mine. I hadn’t been on a “real date” in years. Stumbling home drunk from a bar and engaging in some frotting was more my speed. This was the classic: dinner and a movie. The conversation was pleasant, if sometimes strained—probably because I spent most of the time trying to figure out if we were actually on a date or just hanging out. What the hell did the belle of the ball want with me? The movie was fun. We both liked it. We headed back to my place, but, in an omen of things to come, she left for other plans. I spent the night smoking pot, masturbating, and listening to William Burroughs' Giorno Poetry Systems sessions, as was my custom.
Physical contact came slowly. I was ok with that. There was something about this bright young woman that set her apart from the endless torrent of emotionally unbalanced partners who had characterized the sexually active parts of my 20s. Generally speaking, I didn’t date. I just had sex with anyone I didn’t terrify and who liked doing the same drugs as me. When we got tired of that, we went back to being strangers. She was different. We did simple and meek things together. A walk after dark. A bike ride. A round of chess in the park. A meal together in one of our respective homes. Beyond her natural radiance and youthful energy, I loved that she made me put down my bong for a couple hours and live life.
The building physical tension was wonderful. I began to take pleasure in things I never thought I would enjoy again. A peek at her bra strap. Her brushing up against me as we both navigated through a narrow clearing in the woods. Once, she jumped into me and held herself against me as we walked around an abandoned, allegedly haunted mental asylum. It was a wonderful little instant that I carry around with me like a treasured good luck piece. Eventually, we got more intimate. We’d make out or I’d spend the night in her bed, the two of us just sleeping next to one another.
After a few weeks, however, it became clear that something was amiss. The physical contact remained—“remained” being the key word. Things went around in circles, but rarely progressed anywhere. We might have gotten to second base once. The tentative, jittery quality of it could have been somehow endearing if we were high school students or Mormons. Seeing as we were both more or less grown adults—she was 19, I was basking in the extended adolescence of the nontraditional college student—it was a bit odd. Once the levee of physical intimacy broke, we should have been tearing each other’s clothes off or, at the very least, constantly reminding one another why we were delaying gratification.
But none of this happened. What did happen is that we dated on and off over a period of years with no significant change in physical intimacy. We both dated other people in between, and while I can’t speak for her, I know that I was having sex elsewhere. Our abortive relationship ended twice—for me to pursue someone that I had far less emotional intimacy with, but who at least possessed the attractive quality of turning me on.
I’m not sure precisely when I figured out what the problem was. But I did eventually resign myself to the fact that, no matter how much my heart felt for this person, we were never going to have anything resembling a sustainable relationship with one another. I just wasn’t all that attracted to her. We split.
There exists a vast chasm between knowing that a person is attractive and being attracted to a person. This young woman would be stunningly beautiful anywhere, to say nothing of the crummy little town we shared. But viewing her physical qualities made me feel like a modeling agent scouting new talent or an art aficionado viewing sculpture at the local gallery. Attraction has more to do with the heart and the loins than it does the eyes. If they aren’t on board, beauty doesn’t count for a whole lot.