Grown-up Games: Intimacy

I ended a previous post (Grown-up Games: Chess?) by expressing my hope that readers have found intimacy in someone’s arms, intimacy which has nothing whatsoever to do with procreation and everything to do with the celebration of whatever it is that is love, be it a momentary taste or a lifelong feast. The first Grown-up Games post shared an intimate gambit I had found in a small, self-help book written for women, which I had discovered in my mother’s nightstand; it is a “gambit” in that it is an action that is calculated to gain an advantage and one that entails a degree of risk; however, the advantage sought is not one-sided, it favors something greater … establishing intimacy between two souls irrespective of their gender:

When you make love, never focus on what you can get from your partner; always focus on what you can give.

It is important to beware generalities based upon stereotypes, but traditional views of intimate relationships reflect stereotypes that are not inappropriate. I wish I could cite the source of the following, but it was shared with me decades ago at a party by a woman who’s name I may never have known; it reflects one take on a difference between how men and women approach the Grown-up Games:

Men get close to have sex; women have sex to get close.

If two lovers are men, or if two lovers are women, the observation above should prove copacetic in leading to a positive outcome; however, in a heterosexual encounter, the difference can prove problematic. For better or for (most likely) worse, many of us who grew up Boomer had our concepts of romantic love honed by Hollywood in the 50s and 60s. But it was a collaboration of three Boomers (Norah Ephron, Rob Reiner, and Billy Crystal) in the late 1980s that produced the I Ching of relationships: When Harry Met Sally. There is one scene that addresses the issue of closeness; in it, Sally complains about Harry’s apparently eager departure early on the morning after they have made love for the first time. For those of us who had been paying attention, Sally’s complaint confirms Harry’s observation in perhaps the second-most remembered scene of the movie (the #1 scene being Sally’s public faux orgasm in a restaurant that is followed by Rob Reiners’ mother’s cameo line: “I’ll have what she’s having”), and of course, I’m referring to the scene in which Harry proclaims:

What I’m saying is—and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form—is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.

This is why you have negative feelings after sex is a concise summary of research that delves into Harry’s belief that “… the sex part always gets in the way.” I encourage you to read it: I have a feeling it will be more confirming to Boomers—having experienced life as long as we have—than revelatory; however, our lifelong experience with the Grown-up Games (in some form or other) notwithstanding, and despite the degree to which the world of marketing and entertainment immerses us in overt and covert sexuality, and despite our daily, public Boomer personas that portray people who have never heard of sex while still—for special occasions, or hell, going to the supermarket in the Time of Covid—applying the accoutrements of makeup, hair styles (those of us who still have hair), and fashion with the zest we used in the 60s when we Boomers were on the prowl, I suspect that many of us have not figured out—or we have avoided trying to figure out—how the Grown-up Games managed to play a major part in the courses of our individual lives.

For a variety of reasons that shall remain closeted within my overactive mind, the importance of sex in relationships has been a wonder to me all of my life, and as I write this, I can offer this tenuous observation:

I do not believe sex gets in the way of a relationship when sex is a manifestation of selfless and mutually satisfying intimacy.

“Selfless and mutually satisfying intimacy?” Have I just inadvertently described romantic love? Probably not, but those who have read my novels know that they are steeped in the exploration of intimacy. My most recent work, Pinctada, is a coming of age story set in extraordinary circumstances that arise in 1950s French Polynesia. Believing that coming to terms with love and sexuality—learning how to play the Grown-up Games—is a major motivation for most adolescents, I have used it as a principal motivation—surpassed only by how to survive—for the male and female protagonists in the story. In the following excerpt, it is 1956, and nineteen-year-old Brittany “Bambi” Macey and a fifty-year-old Aussie, Louise Sterling, are having an intimate chat in the salon of a big yawl anchored in Pape’ete Harbor, not many days after an experience on a small, uninhabited motu of the Rangiroa atoll, an experience never before imagined by Bambi and her partner, Bill. We join Bambi and Louise as the latter observes …

“What gets us bollixed is the sex thing, right? There’s this thing where we assume, we have to fall in love, don’t we? I think we mistake the falling-into-love-business as thinking we want to spend the rest of our bloody lives with this person, when all we really want is to shag his bloody brains out, right?”

Both women had laughed, then Louise had continued in a more serious tone: “But sometimes we do fall into real love, don’t we? We must because why else would poets spend so much bloody time cranking out poems about it, right? But I can tell you a secret, one I learned firsthand, one they don’t tell young Sheila’s like you. Falling in love, real love, can take a bloody long time, and between when the time comes that you no longer get all hot and bothered at the sight of your lover, and the time when just the sight of the old bother gives you this kind of bizarre fuzzy feeling that makes you feel warm all over—not hot, mind you, but warm—that’s the bloody danger zone, that time in the middle.

“When we’re in the danger zone, sex is the trap we fall into, girlie, when we think we’re falling in love with a boy whose bones you want to jump. The trap gets bloody romanticized in novels and the cinema, and we’re brain-washed to think its love, but it isn’t really, is it? Struth, I think feeling randy is just the stuff of loneliness or boredom or sometimes even revenge, and when you’re my age, just the need to know somebody finds you bloody sexy can turn you on to someone you wouldn’t otherwise have given a thought about.”

“But on the beach,” Bambi observes, “the last thing that happened was you and Marty … together … and it didn’t seem like it was because of loneliness or revenge or boredom … so then, what was I watching?”

“Certainly not boredom,” Louise had said with a contented smile, and then she had become more earnest: “Two old mates deep in love, cementing the fact with one intense, serious screw, I suppose. We’ve been together for a long time, haven’t we, Marty and me, since well before the war. We’ve been through thick and thin, and the only thing I can say is that it was probably bloody love that saw us through. So, I can’t tell you what real love is, but I can tell you about what it does.

“If you saw something magical between Marty and me when we were making love, then what you saw was true love in the flesh, but as to what love is, I’m guessing that’s up to each of us to figure out. All I’m saying is, don’t get caught up in all the Hollywood nonsense about love; give you and your boy time for the pudding to rise before you decide.”

Dear Reader: here’s hoping you’ve found at least some pleasure playing the Grown-up Games during your life, and remember, like chess, you can play the Grown-up Games until the day you give up the ghost.

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