Acting on desire II: sex and the art of good conversation
10 February 2008 3 Comments
For women the best aphrodisiacs are words. The G-spot is in the ears. He who looks for it below there is wasting his time. — Isabel Allende
As synchronicity, and serendipity, would have it, my ex-boyfriend (not quite the right word, but it’ll have to do) turned up online as I was writing the previous post, and our ensuing conversation crystallised the very notion I was trying to articulate.
Our history is ‘complicated’, as they say on Facebook, but less so now that I’ve learned that the only way to uncomplicate the situation is to sort myself out. Which, of course, brings on further complications, though of an entirely different sort.
The acrimony of our past is well behind us. What I haven’t addressed is how to navigate the future. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve no desire for us to get back together — that future would be wrong for everyone concerned in too many ways. We don’t travel on the same tracks, he and I, neither socially, mentally, nor spiritually, and that gap keeps widening each time we speak. Yet, what complicates matters, as it does, is an old chemistry, an old connection that simmers in spite of social, mental and spiritual contexts. Not quite physical desire (though it is manifested as such), rather like a desire, a craving, for a connection beyond words. We always had that, he and I, the connection — we spoke with our bodies in ways that words could never formulate. Indeed, words were always the worst cause of friction between us. Or maybe the belief in wordless communication was my justification for staying in it as long as I did. (As I put it to a friend later, I think I was going out with my own sense of experimentation.)
Wordless sex (and if the phrase sounds clumsy, it is appropriately so) as depicted in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, which I caught recently, can be raw, visceral and honest in its own way. Yet, as the director himself has noted, sex is also a performance:
I think what they feel is very real, even though they have doubts. Through ultimate performance on both their parts, they have a taste of true love. Each time they have sex they get closer to the truth.
In other words, the characters put in as much as they have, as much as they do, for the mere hint of what they think love might be, feel like, consist of. It is not about ‘true love’ in effect. It is about investing oneself in something for which there may be no guaranteed return, but without which investment one would never know anyway. (Much the same applies for any serious endeavour — just ask any PhD student). Is the endeavour a delusion? An illusion? It is hard to say — some things are as real as they are while they are being experienced. As I’ve noted before, there is truth even in false fronts, if only in the fronts we need to carry for ourselves, if not for anyone else.
I believed once that perhaps the unspeaking communication was enough, better even, but I have more recently come to acknowledge how important the speaking communication is. Important to me, that is. Perhaps in desiring an unspeaking connection with him in the past, I was projecting the shadow of my verbal Gemini self, the silent other who just wants to act and feel and not think so much. What I hadn’t realised is that acting and feeling and thinking aren’t compartmentalised from each other and attempting to do so is like sitting on a stool that’s missing a leg — precarious, and wholly unsatisfactory.
Our truce from two years ago initially evolved into the occasional instant messaging conversation, friendly and concerned but also polite and cordial. Until a point when the conversation turned sexual once again (predictably when Mercury was retrograding in Scorpio last year), which I’d laughingly played along with, believing that changing conversational contexts brought changing relational contexts, or was it the other way around? The part of me that was willing to take a leap, was wanting to see if we could engage the sexual energy without invoking the run-of-the-mill contexts — either in the form of social niceties, decorum and ‘moral behaviour’, which sought to contain that energy, or in the form of social censure, for which such behaviour was relegated to hedonism, immorality, promiscuity. Contexts are so important, and yet, I can never seem to navigate them well enough.
My need for context, I realised, and only this writing, lies in my inability to engage that form of sexual interaction without real conversation, real conversation in the sense of mutual reciprocity and communication. Like two people engaged in a friendly tennis match, rather than two players playing against two brick walls. Last night we were two players playing against brick walls, as, I am sorry to say, we often were. Things I was saying wasn’t connecting, but instead of picking a fight where I would have before, I now withdrew, seemingly out of greater self-awareness. What I had not prepared for is the other person not realising that the mental connections weren’t being made, that we were speaking but not conversing.
My aversion to Mr Ho-hum I so disdainfully dismissed last year was precisely that I resent being spoken at, rather than spoken to. It seems harsh to judge someone based on whether they are able to reciprocate conversationally or not, but conversation seems to be such a lost art precisely because so many people fail to listen, or if they think they do, to actually hear the words being spoken to them.
So the verbal sexual advances that Mr Ex tried to make last night — crudely, to my mind — seemed misplaced, inappropriate, violating. And raised such a feeling of aversion I had to withdraw and end the conversation before I said something hurtful. I don’t want to sit here and whine that I was upset because I felt like a piece of meat. But I felt like a piece of meat. And tried to communicate it, only to be met with the customary defensive challenge: ‘What now?’, i.e. What’s wrong with you now? And I am reminded of Naomi Wolf’s exhortations in Promiscuities that there must be other paradigms through which female sexual desire may be expressed that were not either virgin or whore, feminist or victim. If I consented once to online sex, am I to be always open to it without further need for negotiating consent? Scrap the word ‘online’ and the question remains the age-old one. If I refuse, is my only recourse for definition frigidity, prudishness, or (the more likely) female irrationality?
What I could — can — never figure out is if that misunderstanding is inherent, or wilful. His defences rise and he attacks (‘Don’t talk if you don’t want to’) before I can properly explain myself (I do want to, but he’s just closed off that avenue.). This is another pattern I am now acknowledging. Perhaps it is a bit of both — he doesn’t really get what I’m saying which raises his defences even further, because if he can’t understand my words, he is intuiting their intent. The only thing left for me to do is to continue to work on not taking someone else’s neurosis personally!
I don’t have the capacity for amputation though, only constant negotiation and navigating, and re-establishing new contexts. And facing up to my own need for contexts, if that makes any sense at all. They are conversation, conversation, conversation.
Vatsayana’s Kamasutra selects amongst the sixty-four arts of love these qualities:
Solution of riddles, enigmas, covert speeches, verbal puzzles and enigmatical questions; the art of mimicry or imitation; study of sentences difficult to pronounce: This art or games are included in 64 arts of kamasutra. Proficiency in these games establishes someone’s intelligence level. These are the games played chiefly by women, and children. There are mental games and sometime toung-twister is also included in the category. It is very natural that one needs his or her partner as the best. So one has to learn all these to applaud the process and by this way it can become intoxicating to someone.
The art of speaking by changing the forms of words; knowledge of language and of the vernacular dialects; knowledge of dictioneries and vocabularies; composing poems: These arts are very important in case of family life and Vatsaya has included these as the vital asanas in the 64 arts in Kamasutra. All these arts are practiced to make a person more knowledgeable and thus incorporate it with the total thing. Actually these arts reinforce one’s personality and thus he or she can get a lot of respect from the other one and this way their compatibility or capability of existing or performing in harmonious or congenial combination increases.
A Gemini must’ve been consulted in the writing of the ancient text, for I have to concur. I can’t engage sexually if I don’t engage mentally. My body can’t really respond to physical stimuli alone. But wake the mental senses and the body will take care of itself.
A friend recently asked me: ‘So what does “do it” for you?’ (We were talking about sex, can you tell?). Without thinking, I answered: ‘Conversation.’ His next comment was my ultimate revelation: ‘Like making love is a conversation‘.
‘Yes,’ as Swami X would say, ‘is the answer’.