A few Friday nights back I found myself alone, nursing a martini at Arthur’s Tavern in the West Village.
If you live in New York and you don’t know Arthur’s I’ve just done you a huge favor. Arthur’s is an old school, wood paneled jazz joint. You walk in and you wish you were wearing a polka-dot dress with a nipped in waist and low heeled Mary Janes.
Arthur’s has live music every night. And it’s good. The kind of music that forces you to live in the moment because you can’t believe you’re experiencing something like this. Not to mention, Kay, one of the best bartenders I’ve ever encountered, runs the joint with a velvet clad hammer.
But back to me and my martini.
When one is by oneself at a bar with a martini, this is usually what happens. You down the first half of the martini super fast because you feel a bit weird being at a bar by yourself on a Friday. But then that first half of the martini kicks in — it is straight gin after all — and you realize you have to pace yourself for the second half. And that’s when the good stuff happens. That’s when you relax, take in your surroundings, and just sit with yourself. (Because you’re never sitting alone, one always sit’s with oneself, a simple mind trick that has gotten me through every event I’ve ever attended solo).
So there I was, sitting with myself at the end of the bar with a view of everyone in the establishment. It was a Friday night and one of the first, true spring nights in New York.
Needless to say, everyone oozed sex. Flowers were blossoming, people blossoming, so the city (and everyone in it) was fragrant.
Despite 90% of the crowd being seated, they were all doing a dance with a partner to either their left or right.
You know the dance. It’s “the flirt.” And it’s one of my absolute favorite things to do.
When a man can flirt well (it’s a real art, it takes comedic timing, wits, and patience), the flirt itself (or the tease) is sometimes better than the eventual sex, and sometimes it’s just a precursor to other things he can do quite well.
This is always the gamble you take.
And there were a lot of people gambling at Arthur’s that night.
Some had a lot of chips on the table. They were the ones on their second or third date. They would kiss intermittently. He was comfortable enough to touch her but also comfortable enough to not. They could dance fairly well.
Others, it was just another dealing of blackjack. Another Tinder date. Their first time meeting which consisted of small talk, a few jokes, till they both realized how much the other was willing to drink to make this night work to their advantage. They saw a future of pulling each other onto the stoop of a stranger’s brownstone for a great New York kiss.
But no matter how much was being bet on black, I’d argue everyone had one common goal.
Which, in and of itself is quite impressive. Our mutual goal on a Friday night after a long week of work is to put ourselves in the most vulnerable position in the hopes of feeling validated.
Watching everyone do the flirt made me think of the oh so brilliant Oscar Wilde and his famous quip, “everything in life is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.”
Because it’s true, once that flirt transitions into sex, so does everyone’s intentions who are sitting at the poker table.
Because once you’re in the act of sex, your baggage is colliding head on with someone else’s baggage. It’s like two tectonic plates colliding, one will either submerge under the other (power), they will either collide head on and form a mountain range (mutual power), or they will both spiral downward to form a trench (no one wins in that scenario).
But I have a confession to make — when all these plate tectonics are slipping and sliding, despite being an unapologetic feminist, the last thing I’m thinking about during sex is, “I hope he respects me for my mind.”
Which is one reason why I unabashedly love Nora Ephron.
(Okay, I love her for so many things. She gave us When Harry Met Sally, Heartburn, the art of the black turtleneck… just to name a few national treasures.)
But Nora also gave me something else entirely, and perhaps surprising.
With one line in a book, she told me my sex fantasies were normal.
In her book, Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women, she states, “in my sex fantasy, no one ever loves me for my mind.”
How fucking freeing is that?
And it’s so true. When it comes to sex, the last thing that is going to turn me on is someone complimenting me on my mind. In fact, I want to forget about my mind entirely. I don’t want to be in mind, I want to be in my body.
Nora clearly agrees because she goes on..
“I have never told anyone the exact details of my particular sex fantasy. I once told almost all of it to my former therapist; he died last year, and when I saw his obituary I felt a great sense of relief. Anyway, without giving away any of the juicy parts, I can tell you that in its broad outlines it has largely to do with being dominated by faceless males who rip my clothes off. It’s terrific.”
I’m sure it is, Nora.
But sex is also so much more than just the act of sex.
It’s the thrill of a text. The perfect grazing of your arm. It’s eye contact that lingers. It’s walking home slower than you normally would because the sidewalks are damp, the air is heavy and the night is young enough to take your time. Sex is hope. It’s also mystery and fragrance and sheer toe curling pleasure wrapped in a bow.
A bow that begs to be unfurled with the single pull of that one red ribbon. Sex is temptation.
I’m writing all this because above anything else, sex is human.
And we need to talk about it more.
We need to be comfortable talking about it. We need to have the vocabulary for it, readily available to say when we do or, more importantly, when we don’t like it.
The New Yorker piece, Cat Person, by Kristen Roupenian went viral at the end of last year. It follows the interior thoughts of a woman while she navigates a date with a man she’s not so sure about, she vacillates a lot if she likes him, but still finds herself in bed with him. At which point she thinks:
“…the thought of what it would take to stop what she had set in motion was overwhelming; it would require an amount of tact and gentleness that she felt was impossible to summon. It wasn’t that she was scared he would try to force her to do something against her will but that insisting that they stop now, after everything she’d done to push this forward, would make her seem spoiled and capricious, as if she’d ordered something at a restaurant and then, once the food arrived, had changed her mind and sent it back.”
I think Cat Person went viral because so many women can relate to that moment.
An area we don’t always have the vocabulary to do the best thing for ourselves.
There are a slew of words in other languages that don’t quite translate to English. Such as sobremesa, (spanish for that delightful moment after a meal where food is gone but the conversation lingers), or tsundoku (japanese for buying but not reading a book, instead letting it pile up with your other unread books– guilty).
I wish we could coin a word for that moment described above. The hesitancy to move forward with sex once you did the dance all the way to the bedroom. Getting something you thought you wanted but you actually didn’t and then politely returning it.
And of course — a woman never needs to be polite when saying she doesn’t want to have sex. She can say no anyway she pleases, but it still remains so hard for so many of us to do because it’s engrained in us to always be polite. To not make a fuss or a huff.
Obviously sometimes you’ve got to make a fuss or a huff — sometimes it’s just pretty damn hard to muster the courage to do so.
Man, sex is complicated. It can be as difficult and frustrating as untangling a snarl of necklaces.
But I do believe sex is also hope. And don’t forget how goddamn joyous it can be. It’s in those moments I realize why I put up with the rest of adulthood — the bills, the work, jury duty, the dentist– I put up with it all because I get to flirt on a Friday night at a little jazz bar called Arthur’s.
I get to participate in something so intimate and human and I love it.
Yes — women love sex. It doesn’t make us sluts, or whores, it makes us human.
And goddamn, it is spring after all. Be fragrant. Go out and frolic.
But keep talking about sex. Maybe you’ll find that elusive word we all need in our vocabulary to define the grey so we can enjoy the good bits even more.