Do You Hear What I'm Telling You?
Breakup sex, bonus sex, sex with the ex—whatever you call it, it's part of any healthy relationship. The last part.
But does it count as breakup sex if you don't quite grasp that you've broken up?
We'd last made love in January, and now it was April. Okay, so we were going through a little something. Even I realized that, no matter how hard I'd been trying not to admit exactly what it was.
"Do you hear what I'm telling you?" she asked me, exasperated, sometime in mid-March.
"Yes, yes, I hear you," I answered very quickly, cutting off her chance to explain, clinging to the thin, fraying strings of misunderstanding—the only things that were holding us together.
But that was then, and now she was riding in my car, and I was driving south on Coast Highway. We were heading toward a weekend in a waterfront hotel near San Juan Capistrano. I'd asked her to come away with me, pretty much the way I'd been asking her for three months—except this time, she said yes. Along the way, she asked me to pull over, suggesting we stop for date shakes at that little shack on the sunny bluff overlooking the shimmering ocean. We fed the squirrels even though you're not supposed to. We couldn't help ourselves. Hell, we hadn't made love since January, and now it was April. We had gone through a little something, okay? And now we were getting to it, and it was so much more than okay.
We did it before dinner, our pent-up lust mixing with the salt air and bright sun streaming through the hotel window. We did it when we returned from the restaurant, where we had simmered through a couple of sets by a Brazilian jazz quartet. We did it after Saturday Night Live, and we did it Sunday morning. And after we'd driven back home, we did it again—on the bed where we'd done it the first time we ever did it. But we never did it again. The next day, she broke up with me. At least, that's how I thought it went down.
A couple of years later, we ran into each other. The pain was pretty much gone, enough so that we could reminisce pretty happily about our relationship. We'd both moved on, and we both agreed we'd been good for each other. Finally, we both admitted we would always feel a little tender sadness when we remembered the moment it ended.
"I still think about it," I told her, "at the end of every April."
"The end of April?" she asked, confused. "But we broke up in early January."
Sex Was Never the Problem
I hadn't even seen him for five years, but when he arrived at my back door that hot July night, it was as though only five seconds had passed. There were no formalities. I didn't even turn on the lights. We went straight to my unmade bed, both knowing it would be the last time. We had dated for a year and a half, and we were wild about each other, but our timing was always off. I pursued him more than the other way around. Finally, when I got sick of it and found someone else, he suddenly fell madly in love with me. Sex was never the problem. We were always hot for each other. We screwed everywhere: in a coat closet at the Long Beach Sheraton, on a hillside in Catalina, against Yosemite's El Capitan and in every room of his house. I'm debating about whether to mention the time in the parking lot at the Renaissance Faire because that just got so gross, coming as it did after eating those gigantic turkey legs.
For a couple of hours that July night, time stood still, and the freedom of being apart made us more whole than ever before. We fucked like we had demons inside us. We bent our bodies in every position imaginable. We told each other we had fantasized about this for years, and it was true. When we were finally drenched with sweat, we shared the most passionate and intimate kiss. Sometimes I wonder if I dreamed it. I haven't seen or talked with him since. But I have often thought of that kiss. It was the expression of our connection that put us, finally, on the same page—in loving sync with the knowledge that what we had was not going any further.
It Was Almost Good
We were friends in junior high, but it wasn't until high school that we started dating. In the fall of our senior year, I received a large sum of money—reparation for the wrongful death of my father when I was a child. After graduation, my boyfriend had to leave for basic training, and while he was away that summer, his mother (an evil, manipulative, emasculating woman) mishandled the family's finances and lost their house. When he was kicked out of the Army for failing his exams, his family was looking at homelessness, and I offered to let him live with me for a couple of months until his family pulled things together. That "couple of months" turned into a year, a year during which I worked two jobs and went to school full time while he played video games, watched professional wrestling and looked at porn on the Internet. I cooked, cleaned and gave over to his every whim and desire, physically and financially. He moped, produced hot air from a number of orifices and left me notes occasionally, saying he felt I was "neglecting" him. That winter, I got an eviction notice for letting him live there rent-free. In a year, I had blown $40,000 and didn't know what I was going to do. One night when I was feeling particularly stressed about everything, he came to me with that look in his eyes (and his pants). I gave in with great reluctance. But instead of being inconsiderate and rough as he always was—with his wrestling moves, heavy-handed groping and porn-style, Olympic thrusting—he was very nearly affectionate; it was almost good. And as we lay there in the aftermath, he said, "I'm moving out. And after I move, I think we should take a break and not see each other so much."
"What, like, just on weekends or something?" I asked, thinking that might be a good idea.
"Well, actually," he said, "I was thinking more like a year."
She Asked to Tie Me to the Bed
It had never made any sense, the two of us together. And now it was completely hopeless, and I was leaving the country for a time. That's why she invited me to meet her on Kauai—where it couldn't possibly count. For two years, we had conducted an on-again-off-again office romance. It wasn't the working relationship that made it impossible—it was the fact that we were widely separated by age, and that we shared the same gender. But what matters when you think you're in love? Sex has a way of bolstering the illusion of love, which in turn exaggerates the illusion that you are having the best sex possible—better than anyone has ever had before. Thus, for two years, we stole languid, lustful moments in her red sports car, parked on a dark street around the corner from the office. I was eventually laid off, or I might have died like that. The first night on Kauai, she asked to tie me to the bed. I willingly submitted, curious as to where this temporary freedom might take us. The next evening, she didn't bother to ask. By the third afternoon, her whispered demands became shouts; she untied my hands only briefly, when she required them. By dominating me, she managed to beat her own feelings into submission. A month later, from a hotel room somewhere in Central America, I watched a cable-news report of a hurricane blowing through Kauai, erasing everything that had happened there.
The Only Natural Thing Was to Screw
There's a subcategory in the field of breakup-sex studies: the study of sex that is not incidental to breakups but actually produces them. My own case is textbook. A few years ago, as a freshman at a Southern California university where football is far more important than learning, I ran into the woman of my dreams. She was as smart as Richard Feyman, more beautiful than Mena Suvari, and (like me) a product of Orange County. We grasped each other immediately. Our relationship shed gravity like a monkey in a Mercury rocket. We played tennis and ran every day, we ate dinners at cheap joints in South-Central and drove to Westwood for coffee. We talked about books and movies and dedicating our lives to the poor. And we did it all—in the course of three weeks—in near-perfect chastity; there was much handholding and hugging and kissing, but not much else. Being young—by which I mean naive—I still labored under the Catholic-school-inspired myth of sexless women and the men who prey—not pray—upon them. I was a damn fool. And one night, in my dorm room, with my roommate gone for the weekend, my foolishness provoked a crisis. We confessed our undying love. We were soul mates, we said. We knew we had found perfect love and companionship. We were funny and smart and beautiful, we acknowledged, and we had hearts. We began to look so powerfully into each other's eyes that the only natural thing was to screw. We pressed our naked selves together in ways that seemed to violate every law of kinesiology. And then I stopped. I told her, "I don't want to ruin this relationship by making you do something you don't want to do." I can still recall looking into her face, illuminated by the moon hanging low outside my dorm window, her features blank, the eyes glassy. She nodded. We dressed. And she left. The next morning, she told me we were finished. There were no hysterics, just apologies. I learned later that on that very same day, she got drunk, took off her clothes and danced on the table at a fraternity house. With the eyes of a slightly older man, I figure she needed someone to re-establish her beauty and had found a roomful of anonymous someones; you could say, as I do, that I was to blame: I had rejected her at a moment of rare vulnerability. I ran into her a year later at the center of campus. Leaves fell around us like yellow stars. She was kind and warm and suggested that we might awaken the dormant relationship. I responded like a man made of pine. I stared blankly. My eyes glazed over. I nodded. And then I walked away in silence. I thought then that I was enjoying a kind of revenge. I now know that my real victim was me.
I am the luckiest man in the world! I drag on my cigarette, exhale, and then let the tongue of the half-naked brunette on my left explore my mouth. Then, while I can still taste her berry-flavored lip-gloss, I turn to my right and give my current girlfriend a kiss. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
"What a lucky fucker!" The exclamation floats from somewhere out on the smoking patio of the strip club. It doesn't fully register in my sex-mad mind, though, as I watch the girls lean in to take a turn with each other. Both women have one hand on the other's breast and one on my thigh.
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Going back into the club for a beer, all I can think about is—who am I kidding? I'm not thinking about anything; my little soldier is in command, and it's time for some field maneuvers. The liquor keeps coming, as do the kisses and the groping.
Neither my girlfriend nor I thinks about whether we'll have misgivings or regrets about this situation. We both know we're together for fun, not romance. Tonight, I will be king. It never occurs to me that it could be less than total bliss; the kind of bliss that comes from living out what mere mortals only fantasize about.
It's time to leave—the brunette has finished her shift. All she needs to do is change. My girlfriend offers to go with her, and I'm more than happy to stay behind and have a drink while I wait.
Until an hour has passed, I refuse to wake up to the possibility that I'm being excluded from the tryst altogether. When my girl finally walks up to the table, though, I know what's already happened and what isn't going to happen. I'm right.