Overheard in the ladies bathroom of a well-known Masonic building, an enclave of slightly well-beered and overly-blurry females:
“Sweetie, you owe him nothing. Nada. Nicht. He may think what he likes, but unless you’ve had the conversation you are just dating and therefore you can see who you like, when you like.”
I cringed as I hovered silently over the toilet seat. It’s hard enough to pee in a public bathroom, but throw in a juicy conversation and a gaggle of on-listeners and it’s urine shut down. I emerged, sheepishly from my stall, wanting to look up, but English repression forbidding it. Hurrah for many mirrors! It was as cliché as it gets: one holding the glasses, one the purses, one taking her turn in the mirror and smearing her come-get-me gloss lavishly across her lips.
Under the loud flow of the faucet I missed a bit, but never did a pair of average-sized hands take so long to dry.
“But you’re missing the point!” Said the one who had now reinserted the wand to the gloss and was wiping the smudges of shimmer off her lip lines. “If this were two weeks in, fine! I’d agree with you. But it’s not and I’ve slept with him. That redefines everything. There may not have been the conversation, but there was conversation alright.”
I ferreted in my purse—my Mary Poppins hearse purse is enormously useful for such time-stalling situations; it takes minutes to find anything in there it is so cavernous—and finally drew out my hairbrush. I began to fuss and count the strokes. (I wasn’t really, of course.)
“DIS-A-GREE!” The slightly more looped of the three, triple-fisting the glasses returned, “No conversation, no exclusivity! Sex makes no difference, it’s neither here nor there.”
“No, believe me. It wasn’t here. But it was definitely there, and in the kitchen, the bedroom, the living room …” They cackled, gave one last nod to the mirror, and the three drifted from the basement bathroom and back into the hubbub of the Brews.
I looked at myself in the mirror: I was not meant for this harsh, unfeeling world of dating. I brushed my locks and considered the issue. Had anyone ever broached the conversation with me? No. Relationships had just… happened. Organically. There had never been any verbal contract of exclusivity, I had just—rather foolishly I realized then—assumed it. If someone wanted to spend their time with me, it had really never even dawned on me that they would on the other nights—while I toiled like a dung beetle—be other with other women at the same time. It never occurred to me that there needed to be an agreement made, insisted on. I was wide-eyed at the thought that one could be sleeping with one and dating many others—that just sounds exhausting. Of course, I know people do, but I was thinking of it in relation to the anti-romances I had had.
Is this, The Conversation, something that one should insist on? If so when? And what—oh dear God—if one wants to say “no thank you very much, I do like you, you’re a jolly nice bloke, but actually I rather want to consider other penises right now. No offense! Tally ho.”
Or what if—Heaven forfend—a chap says to you, a lady, “Sorry there Toots, but I want to explore my… options.” Does one smile, shrug shoulders and continue, after one has been so snubbed? My mind was a whirring cosmic fire of unrest.
I just find the whole topic unsettling, because it is so far from my romantic ideal. To use James Fleet’s expression, from Four Weddings and A Funeral, I rather hoped it would just be “Thunderbolt City,” and he would forget all ideas of anyone else, as I would. And nothing would corrupt this mutual feeling of yearning, not conflicting schedules, not friends of the opposite sex, not long absences, not all the little fucking stupid things that are thrown up by the projectile vomit of our past; that there would be this mutual acceptance.
I suppose that’s what happens when it is Thunderbolt City. Maybe the ones that get so easily derailed, and need such contracts and verbal reassurances, are the ones that were never headed anywhere anyway. Regardless, it makes me sad. Sad that I've never asked for this conversation, but that maybe it would have saved many hurt feelings. This oral tornado would blow in and sweep misunderstanding up and away.
I have discussed this with a few friends this week.
“So…Shera, Princess of Power, what’s your take on exclusivity?”
“Non-negotiable. I sat He Man down and said, ‘Look, Mister, are we together, or are you screwing every underage cutesie at the Backyard Ale House on a Saturday night? Because if you are, ding ding, stop the bus, you are getting off. And not with me.’” I applauded her bravado, but knew I could not be so forthright. Mainly because, I am not sure I would like the answer. If one asks, but is told there are others--gulp!--is it so easy to walk away if one is invested?
I asked my dear male friend on his take, “Absolutely, there needs to be a conversation.” He said adamantly. “I wasn’t always like that. But I got burned, and that means now I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket, so-to-speak. I can date more than one woman at the same time with no remorse.”
And then there was a third and final take on it, without me even asking he told me clearly where he stands, because he will not even allow the female he is dating to have male friends—even if her intentions are well meaning and she only has eyes, lips, heart, longing for him. He has little trust in her, because of his prior experience. Can a partner not have friends of the opposite sex? Can she/he not meet him/her for an uncontracted, but understood, mutual friends drink? Do we need to classify every interaction we have just to make sure intentions are interpreted correctly? "Hey, Will, Buddy-oh-friend-of-mine, fancy meeting for a beverage and a non-sexual-interaction-because-we-are-friends-who-don't-share-bodily-fluids?" Not every male-female friendship turns into Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis reaping the benefits!
GAH! I would that we could start every relationship as if we’ve never dated. As if this is new and we haven’t become jaded, mistrustful, cynical and sad. Forget what has gone before, damn it! That's not to say don't learn from experience, but don't assume the new partner will be like the old. We are individual, different human beings, who strive for success and make mistakes; we are largely just as confused as each other, because, guess what, we are not mind readers!Trust, jealousy, longing, contracts. I suppose, the conversation--however unromantic it is, as much as I’d prefer to plunge my fist down my throat and rip out my heart as more eloquent proof—is necessary. Maybe there are so many mixed signals these days that one simply can’t trust the organic process. Maybe there needs to be that clarification that both are singing from the same hymn sheet. That one is not getting overly invested in a heart that is overly invested in many other mutual funds. And maybe the triple-fisting girl, swaying slightly in the reflection of the bathroom mirror, was right all along, her unromantic, practical negotiation stamping on my open heart.