When we married, Joan and I agreed to an open marriage. After several years neither of us had acted on that agreement. It was our belief that sex had nothing to do with love and so it could exist outside of the marriage without damaging the foundation of the relationship. Interesting premise.
For a while, our agreement didn’t matter to me. After meeting Joan, I found 95 per cent of women unappealing. They were either too stupid, too ugly, too high-maintenance, too slutty, not feminine enough, not interesting enough, too self-centered or too aloof. Mostly, I think I just used those cold, ignorant assumptions as an excuse to hide the fact that I never thought any woman would ever desire me. I granted that if one happened to fall in love with me, that love may blind them into desiring me. However, I never expected anyone to desire me solely because they desired me, and since I was married God knows I couldn’t get emotionally involved with someone other than Joan.
Call me a jerk, a wannabe playboy, a male slut or whatever you want. Insults don’t really bother me, I’m sure many unflattering things could be said about you as well if you were brave enough to be honest. My thoughts may be unappealing to some, but I am what I am. It had always been a dream of mine to be myself, and as I dreamed, I learned that I was a very sexual person. Looking back, it’s fairly obvious now; I mean I started masturbating when I was 10! Fucking pillows, carpets, imaginary friends, imaginary teachers, imaginary bosses, the odd imaginary cousin. It didn’t matter. The more interesting the imaginary plot that brought me to fuck them, the better. The plot was most important of all — generally more interesting than the imaginary person. People can be so boring. It’s what surges them out of their bored state that titillates me. My ease of arousal was bound to force itself into future events at some point. It’s just who I am.
The sick shame is that this part of me resurfaced so innocently, when I worked at the Bay over Christmas during my first final semester in university. At the peak of the rush period when no one pays much notice, a shy well-mannered wannabe activist caught me off guard. Something about her eyes, her voice, and her mannerisms made me feel things I was not accustomed to at the time. When I looked up from the counter at her, she looked straight back at me, right into my eyes — through my eyes. Her gaze shot through me, making me question the totality of my life and its relationship to reality.
The devilish smirk on her face told me that she was naughty but didn’t want anyone to know it. She appeared smart and well-kept, but most importantly she didn’t look like she was trying to be anything but herself. A dubious task. But really, it was the eyes.
Most customers look at you as if they’re trying to avoid looking at you, being too possessed by the prospect of needless consumer goods to really pay attention to you. But when this girl looked at me I got the sense that she found something appealing about me despite my awkward, dorky appearance and in lieu of accomplishing any of the great things I went on to accomplish. I’d been happy with Joan up ‘til this point, but this vibe was so overbearing that I questioned my perceptions of happiness.
I wasn’t even sure if she was a real until she left the store. She just looked so needy and so loving, yet shy and scared. It was entrancing, and frightening. Could such a disturbance in time and space be real?
I used to have this imaginary girlfriend named Clair. Whenever I think about Clair I feel thrilled and off-put at the same time, just like I did with the girl at the Bay. I remember Clair as if she were a real person who has faded into imagination overtime, as if she was my first real love only I can’t remember most of our relationship because we didn’t take any pictures. When the girl at the counter left, I wondered if she was Clair returning from the land of make-believe just to frighten and torture my notions of stability — to make me feel weak and afraid, while at the same time alive. As she walked away, I had trouble listening to the next customers because I was trying so hard to work this whole moment out. I determined that she was real when the automatic door opened to let her exit. Unless the door was fake as well, which I suppose was possible, but I’d prefer to say it was real, and so the whole situation was real.
Imagine a look that makes you wonder if everything that has brought you to where you are was an elaborate rouse. A look that makes you question your notions of contentment and fidelity, question if the love of your life is actually merely a facade you put over yourself to let you believe your relationship is something profound and special. A look that sets you off balance in fascinating ways. That was the look.
Fortunately, I’ve never seen her since. Yet her impact opened up a curiosity that would not be suppressed. The trouble came with the recognition that a lot of what I’d built up in my mind was so fragile that if not actively maintained, it could be transformed in the blink of an eye, in the smile of a cute face, or in the throws of experimental passion.
I’m a bad man? I’m still not sure, but that look taught me for that I could be if I didn’t choose otherwise. Though when something overcomes you like that is there a choice? And so began an age of experimentation, which often risked my marriage to Joan. But as I went on I wondered, if love is conditional, can it really be love?