Old Flames: Heaven, Hell, and Eternity
Dear Belladonna Rogers,
I’ve been a widow for five years and in May I got together with my college boyfriend whose wife had died in April. When we were last together -- 40 years ago -- jobs and geography prevented us from thinking seriously about marriage.
I sent him a sympathy note with my email address. Within a month, we had our first date.
It felt as if time had stood still. Our shared conservative politics, pleasure in each other's company, and powerful physical attraction were all as strong as ever. He told me that in his 35 years of marriage he’d never been with anyone but his wife, and that I was the first woman he’d seen since his wife’s death.
After dinner, I regret to say, we spent the night together.
One fleeting detail struck me as anomalous: he undressed in about one second.
I remember thinking at the time, “He’s moving really fast for a new widower who hasn’t been with anyone but his wife for 35 years.” I disregarded that thought because I was eager to be with him again. He was extraordinary, and still is. Unlike him, I undressed much more slowly: I felt hesitant and fearful.
After that night, we were together two more times, and we parted tenderly the third time. Since then, for almost five months, no word from him. Out of the blue, although he didn’t notice me, I saw him last month with a gorgeous, much younger woman. He’d always been a major chick magnet, and obviously that hasn’t changed.
I’m writing to ask your interpretation of what happened.
In retrospect, it's obvious to me that I wasn't the first woman he’d been with in 35 years. That was a line, and I fell for it.
By the time you’re 65, you think you’ve seen and heard it all, and can’t be had.
Was I had?
Disappointed in Dallas
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but yes, my dear, you were had. Your fleeting thought that he was "moving really fast for a new widower who hasn’t been with anyone but his wife for 35 years” came from your logical, thinking brain, also known as the voice of reason.
The message that you were "eager to be with him again” originated in entirely different areas of the brain, and it won’t surprise you to learn that they’re not known for analytical thought.
The French have a saying, “Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point” (from Pascal’s Pensées of 1670) -- “The heart has its reasons that reason doesn’t understand at all.”
Reason may not understand it, but neuroscientists do. They’ve performed brain scans of people during sexual stimulation, and found that on average, test subjects took 0.4 second to decide whether a person was attractive to them. (Reading that, a male friend asked, “What took them so long?”)
Here’s my take: he definitely desired you as much as you desired him. I agree that his hesitation-free, speed-disrobing was a dead giveaway that you were not his first extramarital or even his first post-marital partner. For you, there was probably more than a touch of this:
You felt hesitant and fearful because of the advance warning system most of us develop. The problem with this system is that it’s like an alarm clock: even when we hear it, we don’t always heed it. You recognized the warning the nano-second he went from fully-dressed to naked.
But the moment you saw him nude, memories came rushing back, and with them, your desire. After five years of widowhood, it's easy to empathize with how the sight of him re-kindled feelings so strong that despite the signal from your smoke detector, you were -- in an instant -- engulfed by a bonfire of desire.
If your only goal had been to re-experience what Wordsworth called “the splendor in the grass,” you'd have achieved it. But now you’re disappointed precisely because you hoped for more.
Five months of silence is the only farewell you'll ever hear from this Lothario. This love ’em and leave ’em maneuver is the classic M.O. of chick-magnets for whom there’ll always be an endless stream of available women. You say hello, they say goodbye.
If you yearn for more such wounding encounters, continue to seek out impetuous, speed-disrobing, sprinting-to-the-finish-line chick-magnets. For an analysis of these callous, disturbing, and disturbed men, read George Gilder’s aptly-titled Naked Nomads. In it he predicted that marriage would ineluctably civilize these creatures, but as your experience attests, Gilder erred: once a naked nomad, always a naked nomad. They're guaranteed to leave you feeling used, disposable, and, ultimately, discarded. Alas, that guarantee is printed in invisible ink.
Chick-magnets are luminously exciting, erotic, and high-voltage beings. Like stunning, spellbinding lightning storms, they’re here tonight and -- as you learned to your sorrow -- gone tomorrow.
Luckily, men who aren’t chick-magnets are required by the law of supply and demand – not to mention the basic human obligation of kindness to others – to be more patient than chick-magnets when a woman shows signs of hesitation, trepidation, or -- most terrifying of all to a chick-magnet -- affection.
If you want to prevent another disappointment and the feelings of rejection and abandonment that accompany it, steer clear of chick-magnets. For a deeper, more lasting relationship, proceed slowly with a considerate, kind, good man who won't cause you to feel that your only choice – as it was with the chick-magnet – is now or never.
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129 -- with emphasis added -- summarizes everything I've just written, and does it in 14 lines. It's the single greatest poem composed in the English language on the anguish of loveless lust:
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action: and till action, lust
Is perjur'd, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallow'd bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad:
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof,— and prov'd, a very woe;
Before, a joy propos'd; behind a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
---William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
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