Scent of a Woman
A few days ago my wife showed me an article from the New York Times by Camille Paglia. It was called “No Sex Please, We’re Middle Class” and it was about the sexual repression inherent in presenting to the world a sense of being proper, responsible, and apparently well-adjusted. Ms. Paglia points out the curious perception that admitting to being a sexual/sensual person is somehow low-brow (witness the pervasive, overt sexuality of country and rap music, both of which are generally eschewed by the “upwardly mobile”).
For once, I agree with Ms. Paglia. But what is the alternative to sexual Puritanism? Giving one’s self over to whatever sensual thrill happens to scamper across our fevered brains (at least my fevered brain; I can’t speak for the rest of you)?
Surely not. I, for one, am glad for monogamy. I am glad that I have a lovely woman who will grow old with me, who will not abandon me once I stop being handsomely quirky, intellectually stimulating, and generally fabulous. I am deeply content that she will stay with me forever, and I with her, devoted entirely to one another, remembering well the way we were when we met, and celebrating the years in between. I would not trade that comfort for any of the “extra-curricular” passions that woo me.
I am happily married. I have what many might even consider a fairy-tale marriage.
And yet… I have not stopped noticing and appreciating the rest of the women of the world. It seems foolish—even dangerous—for me to ignore the fact that women, everything about them, still inspire me endlessly.
I absolutely adore women. Today, on the way into Kaldis Coffeehouse to write this, an attractive businesswoman preceded me through the door, and I walked through the wake of her perfume. I love that. I can’t help it. I love women. I love the way they think. I love the way they move, and laugh, and brush their hair out of their faces when they’re looking down. I love how they cock their hips when they’re angry, and sip their iced coffees through lipstick-colored straws, and frown when they’re making decisions, and curl their toes when they cross their legs. I love how women are so unafraid to dance, to express emotion, to hug and kiss their friends, to talk about deep abstract concepts at great length.
And it isn’t just young women, or conventionally pretty women, or gregarious and outgoing women. I love the shy bookworm, and the geeky wallflower, and the curvy middle-aged woman who’s been convinced by the media that she’s hopelessly dowdy. I once attended a conference with a woman of no less than sixty-five with the most striking long silvery hair that I had to resist the urge to run my fingers through it.
I did resist that urge, of course, which brings me to the main point.
All of this love of women is entirely platonic. But that is not because there isn’t a sensual nature to a man’s appreciation of the opposite sex. Far from it. It is platonic only because I make the conscious choice to keep it platonic. Living in a community means being around women, and I can no sooner stop appreciating their femininity than I can walk through a rose garden and not appreciate the sights and scents all around me.
In short, the only difference between myself and the hedonistic, bed-hopping lecher is the knowledge that that lifestyle is the deadliest poison, and the resulting disciplined mindset that keeps my thoughts (and therefore passions) in check.
Giving vent to every possible passion means never fully enjoying any of them, because true passion has to mature, and maturity takes time. He who attempts to taste every fruit eventually finds that he can no longer enjoy any of them. I do not appreciate women any less than the lecher. Arguably, I appreciate them more, because I respect them enough not to use them, or manipulate them, or promise them a commitment that a such a person can never, ever keep.
But neither can I pretend that my innate love of women ceased to exist once I married the love of my life. This is the happy lie that Camille Paglia talked about, and I do believe it is dangerous. Because forbidden fruit is always the tastiest. Unexpressed passions don’t go away. They build up, until they are uncontainable, and the resulting damage can be disastrous to relationships, marriages, families.
I am fortunate. I have a beautiful, sensuous wife who knows these things. She is unlike almost any other wife I know (which explains a lot of why I married her). She points out beautiful, interesting women to me. She is equally unabashed about her own physical nature, and those things that pique her. This is extremely freeing to me. I do not have to maintain the happy lie that I have ceased to appreciate the femininity of other women, because she knows that I am committed to her and her alone. She knows that I am not a mere animal with no control over my drives, and that I choose her always, everyday, happily, above all the other women of the world.
Frankly, this is a more meaningful commitment than the happy lie that somehow I’ll never again appreciate another woman. If that was true (and it never is) then the “commitment” would so easy, so meaningless, that it would be as cheap as dirt. Wouldn’t it?
Maybe I will recant this someday. But right now, I am unashamed of the fact that I am a man who loves women. Having the discipline to keep that appreciation in check (based solely on the knowledge that a lack of such discipline would inevitably lead to disaster and misery) does not mean that women do not still beguile me. It just means I am not a slave to such things. I exercise control over those passions, much as I do when I walk through a rose garden by not plucking up every rose in sight, selfishly hoarding and ruining them. But I do still enjoy them from afar, being reminded of my own well-tended rose garden at home.
There, I can pick the flowers whenever I want.