Das ewig weibliche zieht uns hinan.
The eternally feminine leads us forward.
He who binds himself to a joy does the winged life destroy,
But he who kisses the joy as it flies lives in Eternity’s sunrise.
— William Blake
— E. M. Forster
I‘m finally ready to declare
myself. I am a ladies’ man. A womanizer. A libertine. A rake. A rogue. A
roué. A goddamn running loose dog. I’d admit to being a lecher, but that word implies a
solipsistic predation that I hope never applies to any of my relations with the mysterious sex. This
is about something more sacred than anything a drooling wanker could appreciate.
This is about worship. From the time the testosterone kicked in, I have knelt at the altar of that
which is female in this world. I love women. What I love in them is something that moves and must be
free to do so. I love their smells, their textures,
their complexities, the inexhaustible variety of
their psychic weather patterns. I love to flirt with them, dance with them, and to discourse with them
endlessly on the differences between men and women. I love to make love.
The sexual fires have always burned bright in my brainstem. Priapically preoccupied, I’ve written
poetry by the ream, stormed police lines, ridden broncs, thrown punches and generally embarrassed
myself on countless occasions. (Actually, I suspect that history consists largely of foolish things
men have done to show off for women.)
There are probably twenty-five or thirty women — I certainly don’t count them — for whom I feel an
abiding and deep emotional attachment. They’re scattered all over the planet. They range in age from
less than half to almost twice my own. Most of these relationships are not actively sexual. Some
were at one time. More never will be. But most of them feel as if they could become so. I love the
feel of that tension, the delicious gravity of possibilities.
I must also admit that for me this gravity generally increases with novelty. The New, the fresh
and unknown expanses of the emotional frontier, hold a fascination for me that I wish they did not. This
breeds superficiality and the appearance of a hunger for conquest. But, unfortunately, I love the
voltage, the charged gap between two people that can draw across itself such huge flows of
information from so many parts of us. I love the feel of human bandwidth — intercourse
on all channels — and there is so much more to exchange when nothing is yet known.
Despite many clear and cosmic messages that women (and death) were meant to be the curricula of my
life — my dharma — and that practically everything I’ve done has been about trying to understand
them, I resisted formal matriculation into this perilous course of study until well past the age
when most men have already given up and settled into monogamies as comfortable and unquestioned as
their football loyalties.
And now, late in my forties, I doubt I’ll ever be monogamous again. For reasons I’ll explain, I feel
strangely exiled into a condition of emotional wandering. I think my heart will travel widely. I
want to know as many more women as time and their indulgence will permit me.
Even so, I also want to go on loving the women I love now — and I do love them — for the rest of
my life. These are relationships that have already lasted much longer than most marriages, even
though some of them had to endure the hiatus of my own previous monogamies, one imposed by society,
the other by what felt like an act of God.
The Road to Hell
I tried monogamy despite feeling from the get-go that being monogamous made as much sense as
declaring that I liked, say, mashed potatoes and gravy so darned much that I would resolve to eat
nothing else for the rest of my life.
So I got married and stayed that way for seventeen years, attempting with some grim success to
impose fidelity on myself. It was, I figured, the price I had to pay in return for a good place to
raise kids. And though I loved my ex-wife, and still do, I wasn’t in love with her. Didn’t believe
in it, actually. I thought being in love was a myth people had invented to punish themselves for
Fidelity always felt like work: an act of will rather than nature. As time passed, nature gradually
gained the upper hand, as she almost always does. I was never quite able to stop flirting — a form
of exchange that has always felt holy to me — nor was I able to disguise from my wife my
undiminished appreciation of other women. This led to sexual distance between us, and I started to
get hungry. There began to be incidents of what is called, in rock n roll, “offshore drilling.”
Not realizing that women hate deceit even more than they hate infidelity — and they always
know — I turned into a sneak and a liar. I became someone I couldn’t respect, and so I left my
Not long after that, I experienced the miracle of voluntary monogamy for one brief and
blissful period, during which, at the age of forty-six, I did fall in love for the first time in my
life. During the year
that followed, it was as though there were no other women except in the most abstract sense. I still
delighted in the presence of pulchritude, but it was an appreciation as sublime in its detachment as
my enjoyment of nature’s other wonders. I didn’t want to do anything about these beauties,
any more than I would want do something about sunsets or Bach fugues. Cynthia
was the only woman. But two days before we were to be married, I put her on a plane in Los Angeles
and somewhere between there and New York the virus that had been secretly consuming her stopped her
The most important consequence of losing Cynthia is that I now believe in the human soul. I had to
see it and, once seen, it became obvious to me. No longer did I dismiss it as a biological
artifact, a kind of software that arises in the electrochemical sputterings of the squishyware and
cannot run otherwise. Rather I can feel the soul as an independent though immaterial identity that
wears bodies like a costume.
I finally had the answer to a question I’d been asked shortly before I met her. I’d been speaking to
a bunch of kids at the New York University film school about Virtual Reality when I got the usual
question about virtual sex. This was such a predictable question that I had a mental tape I always
ran in response to it that went something like: “I don’t get the fascination with virtual sex. Sex
is about bodies, and being in VR is like having had your body amputated. What could be less sexy?”
At this point, a very embodied young woman in the front row raised her beautiful hand. “But don’t
you think,” she asked, “that when it comes to sex, the body is just a prosthesis?”
My tape stopped running. “A prosthesis for what?”
“That’s the interesting question, isn’t it.” she smiled, all sphinxy.
Yeah. That was the interesting question alright, and Cynthia, in both the way she inhabited her body
and the way she remained after leaving it, answered it for me. There is indeed a hand that moves the
hand, there is a kiss that lives inside both sets of lips.
At that point I decided that, whatever the pressures of society or the propensity of most women to
insist on it, I wouldn’t attempt monogamy again unless and until
I encountered someone who induced it in me as naturally as she did. And I like to believe that
nothing would make me happier than to have that happen. To fall in love. To be singularly devoted
(But I have to confess to aspects of my current behavior pattern that are subconsciously designed to
prevent this very thing from happening. If just once in your life you’ve put all of your emotional
eggs in one basket, only to have that basket smashed almost immediately, it inclines you toward more
distributed systems of emotional support.)
There is a central woman in my life, a luminous Swede who lives in San Francisco. She is the person
I always call when I feel bad in the middle of the night. She is beautiful and funny, as game on an
adventure as Indiana Jones; she is a sexual poet, and I love her.
That she is not the only woman in my life pains her — as will this piece — and I wish to cause her
no pain. But I learned from my marriage what suffering can be inflicted by someone who tries
unsuccessfully to contain himself in the service of someone else’s feelings.
And scrupulous honesty, though it requires courage on both sides, is a lot more practical than most
men believe it to be. The fact that I don’t lie to her about these other encounters brings us closer
rather than separating us. And sin, as Nietzsche said (and I often quote), is that which separates.