“I’ve always been curious about what rope would feel like,” she said, “you know, with someone who knew what they were doing.” I accepted the implicit compliment with as much grace as I could, smiling in agreement.
She was dressed in a lovely green cocktail dress, shimmering various shades of emerald and offset by adorable purple calf-high boots that looked like they belonged in a London rainstorm. Her blond hair was in an elegant bun, but she had mastered the technique of using just enough makeup to make it look like she wasn’t wearing any. The quick intelligence in her smiling eyes as she talked to me was immensely appealing, with a mature confidence that tends to be a hallmark of the other successful writers at the party.
Before I could reply with the standard response (“I’m sure it’s not too hard to find someone knowledgeable in your area…“) she continued. “And, also, who I was attracted to. I’ve been tied up before by a friend who knew what he was doing, but there was no, well, spark there.” Her eyes flashed up to the right, remembering. “Instead there was just this moment of discomfort, of fear, when I realized that he really could do anything he wanted.” Her eyes returned to mine. “So I’ve really enjoyed watching you here,” she motioned towards Shar, the woman in the full-body rope corset standing nearby chatting merrily with friends. “Because I’ve always wondered what it would have been like if I had been attracted to him.”
Her gaze suddenly became very direct. “Because you, you I find attractive. I do want to fuck you.”
What does one say to such a statement at a cocktail party? When Dad was teaching me manners, this was not one of the subjects covered. I smiled, as that seemed appropriate, making sure it didn’t move into embarrassment or leering territory. A part of me rejoiced at the joy of being in such a sex-positive environment that such things could be said. A part of me admired the courage she had to be able to be a woman in this culture and admit her desires openly. A part of me, still about fourteen years old and crushing on these wondrous creatures we call “women” was triumphantly pumping a mental fist in the metaphorical air.
Before I had to distill an actual response out of this miasma of feeling, though, she continued. “But, I’m currently in a monogamous relationship, and so…well…we’ll just have to leave it at that.” The expression on her face was so bittersweet that it made me chuckle. There was such a tragicomic nobility to her inner conflict of desire with fidelity. Of course there was no doubt which side I would take in the struggle. I am, at heart, one of the “good guys”, or at least try to be, and Vegas or no I was not about to try and seduce this amazingly attractive woman who wanted to fuck me after I tied her up. Not a chance.
However, I’m not all that good, in spite of my best efforts. So while I chatted with her more, about the struggles of being a non-monogamous person in a monogamous relationship, I watched her suffering. It was a bit like watching a mirror slightly askew; I’d recently ended my own struggle with just such a relationship, and it was not a problem to commiserate.
I reinforced the righteous correctness of her self-restraint, telling her what a fortunate man he was. I quoted to her from Charlie Glickman’s recent column about marriage, where he’d championed the idea of putting the “sacred” back in marriage in it’s traditional meaning of “sacrifice.” This acceptance of the lust that was kindled by watching another body in the rope without acting on it was a tribute to both their relationship and to her strength and value as a lover, I told her.
I told her about friends of mine who have one of the most successful relationships I’ve ever heard of with only one rule: “Bring it home hot.” My suggestion that she would be doing the same by taking that sexual urge home to her lover was somewhat diluted by the fact that those friends, in particular, are also some of the most lecherous polyamorous sluts I’ve ever met (and he’s a better rope top than I am, in fact, a fact which made her eyes first widen and then narrow as her erotica-writer’s imagination ran with that thought).
At some point we both became aware that the tension, the desire, and the frustration was actually turning into something other than just a discussion. I was starting to enjoy her suffering, in fact, and it was feeding that sadistic part of me. It is a particular kind of sweetness to share a sexual attraction with someone and know that it is not going to be consummated.
I smiled and offered her a quote from Wendell Berry’s “the Wild Rose”, about choosing again what you’d chosen before, and she just grimaced. “Sweet, I’ve heard of it, but it doesn’t really help,” she grumbled, and we talking more about the difficulty in telling the difference between discipline and denial when self esteem is the battlefield. I knew it wouldn’t help. In fact, I knew that the more I engaged her in conversation, made her laugh, laughed with her, pointed out the nobility of her actions or lack thereof, the more she’d suffer.
And oh, how sweet that suffering was. At a certain point she was drawn off to another conversation, and she rather warily held her arms out for a hug. Her eyes held a strange resignation, the same look that I will see on a partner’s face as they offer up their nipple or ass or other body part to the next blow from paddle or hand or whip. It is the look of knowing that something is going to hurt, but knowing that passing up the sensation will hurt worse. No, not exactly hurt, but somehow make life less than it could be.
I hugged her, and of course it was electric. I felt the skin of her neck as it met her shoulder pressing against my cheek, and it would have been the easiest thing in the world to stretch into a soft kiss into the subtle aroma of clean and pure desire there. Her body was strong and warm and I could have pushed our bodies into more tangible manifestation of the intimacies our conversation had spun.
But I didn’t. And she knew I didn’t. And we both knew that by not doing it, we were gaining and losing at the same time, and the antinomy of the situation was like electric wine on our soul’s lips.
As our bodies parted, she had a far off look in her eyes and a wry smile on her lips. “Yeah,” she said softly. “It was there.” Her expression was somewhere between merry rue and mock resentment as I smiled at her. She knew I was enjoying her struggle, and like any good scene, she was also enjoying the fact that she was giving me that pleasure.
It was all either of us would get from each other.