I recently got out of a relationship. She told me that she felt as if I had duped her; as if the relationship itself was as crafted as one of my shows or columns. She made sure it was clear to me that this was my fault, that she was a victim to a long con. The thing is that I think she’s right. The bigger question I have is, “What’s my alternative?” As I date around again, I’ve started to debate internally this question with every new girl I encounter. Am I lying to them if I act charming? How about if I don’t disclose that I slept with someone else the night before? If I hold in a fart I would have freely let fly, am I disguising the real man? What if I don’t tell them I’m literally ONLY interested in sex for at least the first three dates? And where do I fit in the part where if I’m only texting late at night, then I don’t ever want to be your boyfriend? But, wouldn’t that also predispose me to think that they’re not also interested in sex? Or not intelligent enough to understand these things implicitly? Isn’t that a bit presumptuous, if not outright anti-feminist? Past picking up checks and holding doors, where does my responsibility end and hers begin? Fuck, this is hard.
There’s a cliched plot conceit in movies wherein a previously timid character learns to say whatever it is that’s on their mind. Maybe they arrive there through a near-death experience or a midlife crisis, but the effect is a satisfying one to the audience. He or she becomes our surrogate through which we can finally speak truth to our shitty boss, our selfish friend, or our domineering significant other. Imagine, then, being lifted of that filter at the beginning of any relationship. We like to believe ourselves honest and claim that the best relationships start truthful, but would that really work in practice? Could I tell someone I’m sleeping with that I’m really interested in sleeping with a lot of other people? That I have no idea if that desire will ever disappear? That marriage, while I’m sure is beautiful and vast, is effectively a social compromise. And could they tell me that they fantasize about a day when I’m not disgusting or boring or clumsily attempting to have bad sex all the time? There is a cavernous divide between the desires of women and men during the casual beginnings of any relationship and I believe holding back certain truths is simply effective bridge-building. We don’t want to hear honesty, because the fact is that we’re not always going to feel the same way about each other. It’s going to morph and change and deepen and worsen and improve. But how can you stand at the beginning of a journey with a partner, know that, and not think: why not someone else? Ignorance isn’t just bliss, it seems essential. At least at first.
So then, who’s fault is it? With my ex, there were two games being played. There was me, catering to her, never arguing and desperately wanting her to believe that I was the person she seemed to think I was. And then, there was her, eager to believe the lie. I duped her, yes, but not in a conniving, intentional way. We placed unreasonable expectations on ourselves. When I was challenged for looking at other girls, I didn’t fight back. I didn’t stand my ground to say this is the way it is and I watch pornography and that it’s biologically impossible for her to be the last person I’m ever attracted to in this life. I just told her she was beautiful and hoped it would go away. So, yes, I was very much at fault. But so was she for burying her head in the sand, for buying a lie of her own creation.
I just saw a movie called Mistress America. In it, and I’m remembering this poorly, but a character asks something to the effect of, “who’s fault is this?” And an older woman responds with something like, “As you get older, you find it’s never anybody’s fault.” I’m finding that more and more true. Even at my most incensed, I see the reasons people act the way they do, the cogs turning gears turning hands and I find it harder and harder to find blame. We’re all just figuring it out. So here’s my attempt at just making it easier for everyone: I just want to have sex. Past that, the mysterious is boundless. Maybe we should learn to enjoy that..