Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about passion, and affection, and their place outside the bedroom.
It started with the decision that, sex or no, I owe it to Doug to cultivate these things in myself, and show them to him regularly. When we first got together, our life was full of passion and affection: even in public, we would find little ways to keep physical contact with each other, like magnets; we would deliver pick-up lines and make innuendo-filled jokes to each other, as well as saying sweet things, like, “You have pretty eyes,” off-the-cuff, simply because we couldn’t bear to keep them secret; and of course, in the privacy of our own homes and cars, we would have sex pretty much whenever time allotted.
After my miscarriage, I became so closed-off to the idea of sex, that all of those smaller passions and affections became taboo to me as well. I felt like, when it came to sex, if I gave Doug an inch, he would want the mile that I couldn’t provide. I became so worried that every little thing was loaded with interpretation – If I kiss him on the lips for longer than half a second, will he think we’re going to have sex? If I tell him I like how his butt looks in those jeans, will he think we’re going to have sex? If I agree to a second glass of wine during dinner, will he think we’re going to have sex? – that the passion and affection in our relationship pretty much dried up altogether.
Things are better now, in so many, many ways. But in this one area, the pre-miscarriage habits have been slow to re-form. Even now that the IUD is out – now that I’m not hormonally altered, and looking forward to enjoying the years surrounding my sexual peak to their fullest – I can’t quite seem to act on the impulse to tell my boyfriend how hot he is when he spikes his hair instead of just putting on a baseball cap immediately after his shower, or to wake him up in the middle of the night because I’ve been dreaming about him.
It occurred to me that maybe I don’t know how to do these things anymore. I know how to think about them, but I can’t seem to turn the thoughts into actions. Given the sadness of this state of affairs, I’ve been paying attention to other couples’ interactions, hoping to learn a thing or two about how it’s done, how it shouldn’t be done, and how I might be able to do it.
This morning, Doug, Erin, and I drove up to LA to attend Carrie’s birthday party – a really cool food tour through the restaurants of the downtown Little Tokyo district. We arrived early, and as we were waiting, Erin told us a story about the last time she went to one of her boyfriend’s work events. Knowing her function there was mainly to be his arm candy, she dutifully fetched them both drinks, then went over to where her boyfriend was talking to a (female) coworker on the other side of the room. Erin handed him his drink, then hooked her index finger into his pants pocket without saying a word. She later heard from her boyfriend that the coworker had made a comment to him the next day: “Your girlfriend was hanging all over you.”
There were two other couples besides me and Doug at the party. One pair was married, and both hungover from the wife’s birthday party last night. They were fun, and talkative, and playfully affectionate with one another – not a lot of touching, but a lot of joking around, mostly, because we were on a food tour, on the subject of the wife’s vegetarianism verses the husband’s willingness to eat anything (bugs and congealed chicken blood were mentioned).
The other couple, one of Carrie’s sorority sisters and her boyfriend, sat next to each other and held hands for most of the tour. Sweet, typical gestures, until, when we were sitting at a long table in one restaurant’s upstairs dining room, listening to the history of the California Roll. Suddenly, our fun, bubbly, Rachel-Ray-voiced tour guide interrupted herself.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” she said. “Where are you putting your hands?”
I hadn’t been looking, but from what I could devise, this couple had just started making out, right there in the middle of the party, and one of them was grabbing the other’s thigh. The tour guide regained her composure nicely, even making jokes about public displays of affection later in the tour, but it was obvious – to all of us – that the spit-swapping and the up-feeling just weren’t afternoon-party-appropriate.
So how to put all this into a concise handbook for myself? Witty banter and hand-holding are appreciated in public; sucking face is not. But… Sometimes a subtle declaration of ownership, such as a finger in a pocket, isn’t okay either? I was left more confused than when I’d started.
At this point in my thought process, our group was standing in a tea room, saying goodbye. Doug interrupted me by grabbing my hand and pressing it against his cheek.
“I shaved my face!” he said, pouting because I hadn’t noticed or commented sooner. “And I did my hair. I tried for you – again. That’s twice in a week. Except I didn’t wear my watch this time because I couldn’t find it this morning…”
“You’re very handsome,” I told him, kissing his nose. “You’re the most handsome of all three of the men at this party.”
Then I slipped my arm around his waist and tucked the tips of my fingers into his back pocket, as we waited for Carrie to turn her attention to us so we could wish her happy birthday and get back on the road.
*This title refers to an inside joke Erin and I had in high school; specifically, it refers to a few occasions of going to amusement parks with couples, or as parts of couples, and not wanting the flow of the day to be interrupted by people groping each other.