Have you ever had to ask someone to leave? At four in the morning, when the other guy is sitting beside you on the couch, waiting expectantly and with good reason, for an in-depth experience of shallow intimacy?
You know the scenario: It’s a Saturday night, you’ve both had a few, he’s available and you invite him back to your place, only to find out – too late – that It’s Just Not Going To Work.
He hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s not nasty, he’s not violent, nor has he done the werewolf thing and turned suddenly hideous in the cold, cruel light of the late night bus. It’s just that (squirm, embarrassment, guilt) it’s not going to work, and you have to say something, or else.
Someday, someone will write a book on these and other thorny (horny?) thickets of gay etiquette (and, indeed, should there be an agent in the audience, especially one with lucrative contacts in the US and British markets, let me be the first to announce that I’m the man for the job), but in the meantime, your only sensible exit strategy is that old standard: Be honest. Indeed, the only conceivable advantage of your current situation – drunk at four in the morning with a total stranger – is that you have no choice but to be outspoken. It’s either that or spend the rest of the night squirming.
Further, this is probably one of the few times in the sexual arena when words – cold, cruel words – are actually going to do you some good.
We live in an age when frank and honest talk is considered the elixir of intimacy, the benchmark of relational virtue, the bedrock of romance. From sex columnists to talk show hosts, everyone assures you that a good talk will take you places that repression never could. Just open up the lines of communication, says everyone from Oprah to your friendly neighbourhood therapist, and you’ll soon be hitting the long hard, highway to lu-uv.
Well, maybe when you’ve been together so long there’s really nothing else to be done except stick it out and work at the fucker because it’s that or rent another video. But in the short term, in the still of the night, where great romances (and quirky quickies) stand or fall, it ain’t that obvious. As a character in RM Vaughan’s first novel, A Quilted Heart, put it, “It is communication, not the lack of it, that kills lust. This noisy foolishness about the world turning on talk between lovers is a sham.”
I’ll second the notion. I recently shelved my usual silence and remarked to a newish date that he didn’t seem to like sex in the morning. It was meant as an exploratory comment, a prelude to further intimacy, a chance to develop a new and more probing sense of our defining desires. Needless to say, it backfired. The remark was taken as criticism.
I don’t want to discourage openness and communication in sex. Except that I do. With the possible exception of that annoying social gambit, “What’s new?” my least favourite question in the entire world is, “So what do you like to do?” Nothing kills the mood faster and nothing says “mis-cue” finer. It always pops up in the middle of sex and it always means just one thing: You’re not on the same sexual wavelength.
I mean, if there’s two of you and you’re naked and you still have to ask what the other guy likes to do, chances are you’re not communicating in the only way that really matters.
Don’t get me wrong. I like talking to people. Indeed, I sometimes think the only justification for casual sex is the talk that surrounds it. If you’re not there to find out a bit more about the stranger beside you, why are you there at all?
What I don’t like is talk about sex itself. Far from taking us forward, it regresses ecstatic experience into leaden reality.
I once had a short-term boyfriend who was great in bed, except for a perverse need to control the exact progress and placement of my tongue. He couldn’t help himself; he was a teacher. But knowing the exact longitude and latitude of his erogenous zones didn’t increase my avidity. In fact, it killed it. I wanted to find out for myself.
Knowing your partner isn’t everything, wrote therapist Esther Perel in the Utne Reader last fall. Most sex therapists encourage their clients to act like my literal-minded friend and express their desires openly and honestly, but Perel has a different take on the matter.
“Most couples exchange enough direct talk in the course of daily life,” says Perel. “To create more passion, I suggest that they play a bit more with the ambiguity that’s inherent to communication. Eroticism can draw its powerful pleasure from fascination with the hidden, the mysterious and the suggestive.”
I’d go a lot farther and say that sex thrives on silence, or at least the cessation of logical, sequential thought. The big appeal of sex is that it’s nonverbal. You can’t talk your way into desire and you can’t talk your way out of your miscues, either. It works or it doesn’t. And when it does, it’s precisely because it’s escaped the dull, grey world of words.