My year of promiscuity

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Last night I noticed my husband fill the cup we use to measure the dog’s food to the brim, when the vet has recommended only three quarters or two thirds full.

I had wondered why we were going through dog food faster these days, given I do the feeding in the mornings, and I’m religious about the recommended serve.

I’ve yet to remark on this to my husband, to suggest he tone it down because the older we get the more he experiences me as a woman who reminds him of his mother.

I tell myself it must be because I wear glasses more these days. His mother wore glasses.

I tell myself it must have something to do with our shifting roles. The roles that shift and sway over the course of a long marriage.

Mostly we manage to accommodate to these changes.

I have long understood from other people, the pain of living alone, or at least of being so-called single.

I tried it once, for a year, my twenty third year, one of the worst years of my life.

I christened it my year of promiscuity, as I had just come out of what had been a long term relationship of four years with my gambler boyfriend; my first proper relationship and towards the end of that relationship I was beginning to feel my fate had been sealed.

We may not have married, but we were as good as married, me and my gambler boyfriend, and I soon decided next step was babies and a life of domestic bliss.

Something stopped me short when one of the young residents at the hospital where I worked asked me out and although I declined at first, his invitation alerted me to the possibility of another life with another partner and other adventures.

And so it was my first serious relationship ended and I wound up in a second floor apartment, which I came to share with my younger sister, who was desperate to leave home and had imagined a fun life together with me. However temporary.

I was older by five years and she told me later she had imagined we two would paint the world red.

Little did she know I had no such plans. My sights were instead focused on finding an alternative partner and to do so I needed to meet as many alternatives as possible.

I was hardly ever at home. But on the few nights I could not find a fresh man to share my journey, I languished alone on top of my bed listening to Janis Ian:

I learned the truth at seventeen

that love was meant for beauty queens

and high school girls with clear skinned smiles

who married young and then retired….

 

And Joni Mitchell’s Blue:

Hey Blue, here is a song for you

Ink on a pin

Underneath the skin

An empty space to fill in

I was fearful of a life alone and not just into the future.

Our apartment was one of the newer 1970s versions, with a stairwell from which all other apartments fed and an entrance door downstairs that you opened with a key.

Each tenant had separate access, but people could be careless and they sometimes left the door below open to any and all passers by.

As I rested on my bed alone at night with the words ringing through my head Blue songs are like tattoos…I needed to get up to check that the security door was locked and to make sure the door that led from our balcony was also secure.

My sister was out with her boyfriend and although she might return later that night, she might also stay away till the next day.

I had not offered my sister any consideration about my comings and goings and so she modelled herself on me. We were as proverbial ships that pass, and we had stopped relying on one another for company, even as my sister had wanted it in the beginning.

And so on those lonely nights in the Narong Road apartment without a partner I, too, would have loved my sister’s company, but it was not to be.

Even after I had sealed the apartment, my fears continued. I looked out from my Venetian bedroom window onto the rooftops of the house next door and into their small vegetable garden and imagined a dark figure lurking there among the tomato spikes.

This man was surely on the look out for prey and that prey could surely only be me, me alone in my apartment with no companion to protect me.

That was how I saw it then.

Company, another person, preferably a man, a good enough man at my side, was sure protection against all the dangers of the world and for that one grim year, I had no such companion in my life and I feared that forever more, I would struggle to sleep alone terrified of invasion.

I think of it as one whole year, a year that slipped over the edge into a second, but not much longer.

Looking back now and with the benefit of hindsight, in that year I enjoyed three somewhat steady attempts at companionship in the different men who had proved to be more than one night stands:

Keith, the young apprentice electrician, who seemed too innocent for me, and Dan, the stevedore who promised an exotic life of over seas travel. Which at that stage I thought I might have wanted.

Dan had migrated from South Africa and left his wife behind after he found in bed with another man. He never got over her infidelity and as a consequence, although he too longed for companionship and for a few months imagined he might have found it in me – especially as I had loaned him my car after he had wiped his out – he could not commit himself and refused to be drawn into discussions about his feelings.

I left him.

I left Kevin, too, but the man who started it all, the young medical resident with whom I once worked, offered only temporary respite from my loneliness.

He moved his rotation before either of us had a chance to drop the other.

During this time I maintained a friendship of sorts with my old gambler boyfriend until one day his wounded pride got the better of him and he told me he never wanted to see me again.

I have skimmed over this year of intensity with too few words.

This time begs for greater depth and one day I shall find the courage to go into these memories with all their sordid ugliness. But for now I am wary of wounding the delicate pride of any man not because I fear being dropped.

Maybe more because I fear doing any dropping.

I do not want a repeat of my promiscuous year, not that I would ever enjoy/suffer such a year again, given my age.

I want my solitary life to hold a different quality, one I can only imagine.

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6 Comments on My year of promiscuity

  1. Jim Murdoch
    August 8, 2017 at 10:46 pm (2 weeks ago)

    I’ve never been promiscuous. I would’ve liked to have been. I watched TV shows and films where people were, where they slipped in and out of each other’s beds with ease and without guilt or not much. I so wanted to be like them. Once I was approached by a prostitute on London Road and I politely declined her offer explaining I needed to get home to my wife but I can tell you here and now what would’ve happened had I gone with her: we would’ve talked. I would’ve paid her for her time but I wouldn’t have been able to perform or even be that interested even though she was not unattractive. That’s not me. I need to know a person first and it takes time to get to know someone. I used to marvel at school how, at discos, kids would get off with each other (which is not the same as getting each other off). They’d have a wee dance and the next thing you’d know they’d retire to some dark corner and start snogging; winching we call it which can also mean courting depending on the context. That was never me. Never brave enough.

    I’ve lived alone twice in my life. The first time was in my mid-twenties although that didn’t last for long because my brother split up with his first wife and I ended up taking him in and when he left my sister who’d just broken up with her first husband moved in. The second time was in my late thirties when I returned to Glasgow after my second marriage failed. Oddly enough I made no great efforts to seek out female company or any company. I buried myself in work. I’m not sure after you’ve lived as a couple for any length of time you can go back to being single. You can get by on your own and I did but I always felt like a part of me was missing which is odd because part of what went wrong with my marriages was the fact I held back part of myself. I wanted sex on tap and being married seemed the only way for someone like me to get that but I wasn’t willing to give up everything for just sex. I valued my privacy too much. Had F. and I never moved in together we’d probably still be together. Or maybe not. Who knows these things?

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      August 9, 2017 at 8:34 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Relationships are tricky, Jim, especially when we get tangled up with human issues like sexual desire and fidelity and all those other things that keep us longing and hungering for one another. You’ve had quite a mixed bag of togetherness and isolation too from what I read here. In the end though it’s pretty clear, most of us need companionship in some shape or form, if not full time, then at least a good deal of the time. And then there’s the issue of bodily needs versus emotional needs, needs for time alone and needs for time together. All very fraught. Thanks, Jim.

      Reply
  2. Louise Allan
    August 9, 2017 at 2:23 pm (2 weeks ago)

    It sounds like a hard and complex year to delve into, Lis. My early twenties were the hardest years of my life, for many reasons, but the staunch Catholicism under which I was brought up and the ensuing shame of wanting a sexual relationship was a big part of it.
    I get very angry at people who use religion to shame others about their sexuality. We are sexual beings and we need close physical contact. It’s completely normal and natural, and there is no shame.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      August 9, 2017 at 5:02 pm (2 weeks ago)

      It was a tough year, Louise. So many of us say we wouldn’t want to go back to that young teenage/adult age again. If only we could with the wisdom of our current age but life’s not like that. Thanks, Louise.

      Reply
  3. Karen C
    August 9, 2017 at 3:57 pm (2 weeks ago)

    You need two people to be promiscuous. Apparently, if you’re male, it’s referred to as ‘sowing wild oats’.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      August 9, 2017 at 5:00 pm (2 weeks ago)

      That’s true, Karen. The old, ugly and patriarchal double standard.

      Reply

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