Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

One to daydream, two to disclose

Six summers ago, a radio station playing at the site of a temp job kept talking about “the songs of summer,” somehow reinforcing an attentiveness to the songs I was hearing then, that summer.

Ricky Martin had a hit, and all summer long my Bible study pals and I would launch spontaneous “Copa de la Vida” dance parties in someone’s bedroom. Followed, invariably, by “Son of a Preacher Man” from my Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Girlfriend #1 was dating one and I liked one, so what better way to let loose and just be silly? It was a summer mostly lacking in levity, after all. Barenaked Ladies’ Stunt was also out, featuring aptly moody anthems like “Call and Answer” (“I’m warning you, don’t ever do/those crazy, messed-up things that you do/if you ever do/I promise you I’ll be the first to crucify you”) and the even-darker “In the Car.” And since I was still obsessed with swing dancing, I bought Harry Connick Jr.’s Come By Me mostly for the infectious title track. I shared the coveted central bedroom, overlooking the back courtyard of the big house where all we project kids were housed. The room had floor space enough for me to amble across the boards pretending I had a partner to dance with.

The other communal space for music-listening was the great, glorious kitchen full of cupboards and sunlight from the grid-like glass-paned windows (novel to a suburban Arizonan) that swung out to overlook the best coffee shop I could ever dream of living across from. In the kitchen we listened more to radio than CDs. Aside from Santana’s steamy “Smooth,” the most-memorable single of the summer was Tal Bachman’s melodic ode to resignation, “She’s So High.” It must have been playing everywhere, those familiar opening chords and Bachman’s winning falsetto. I’m sure I heard it sometimes at the defiant little Gap store jettisoned at the top of Telegraph Avenue, north of all the more Berkeley-worthy local shops.

The chorus was well-suited to listener harmony, an exercise in quasi-community making similar to the appeal of the weekly praise night that brought Poster Boy to the house (not that his presence hurt, of course). In those days I was still big on such sing-alongs since my voice was the one instrument I continued to use with some regularity. And as an inveterate sight-reader at the piano, I was always in awe of those who could improvise and read chords.

I bought Tal Bachman’s record that summer, probably on some trek down to the vast, mysterious innards of Amoeba Records — that curious East Bay amalgam of gritty record racks and sunny high ceilings. One left feeling slightly warm and dirty all at once. The record didn’t get much notice other than that single, but it’s a fairly sturdy rock album wrapped around a strange combination of generational themes (various songs seem written to an aging grandfather) and anthems of doomed love (the catchy, sarcastic “Romanticide” remains a favorite).

So I threw the album on again the other weekend, when I needed courage. And that’s about when it hit me, this trend in my Spooning Fork selections: “Do I Move You?” “You Need Love,” “Help Yourself,” “Gimme All Your Lovin’ or I Will Kill You,” “Heart of Mine” and “Let Me in Your Life.” (Clears throat.)

In the interest of spicing up the relational diversity on this blog, this week’s queries for advice will focus on the challenges when you’re actually in a relationship. And to start us off, a question from Almost Bored:
At what stage of a relationship does one relate past foibles to a prospect/significant other/mate?

Obviously “coming out,” if you will, too early to a prospect can be unnecessarily devastating. Depending on one’s denominational persuasion, you’ll have varying opinions on the obligation of human confession. On one end, it’s only fair that a person’s mate know up front what they are “getting into,” so to speak. On the other hand, not every gross detail of one’s past will be of benefit to the relationship’s future.
Well, dahling, since there can be no better position from which to answer this than mine (that is to say, ignorance), let me jump right in.

Disclosure in any relationship — unless it follows the shrink/therapist-patient relationship — calls for a sort of tennis-like approach. You want the ball to keep bouncing back and forth. It’s not some session with a ball-spitting machine so you can practice your serve. And ideally the goal is to have a good game, not blast your opponent to smithereens — how much fun can that be?

In other words, the game (that is to say, relationship) should be governed by a degree of reciprocity. A situation where one person regularly shares deeply and the other person shares almost not at all isn’t that healthy. The open person may be too inclined to talk freely and fill up the silences with chatter, and the quieter person may struggle with letting others in. These are things you need to talk through and (in your case), pray through — particularly for wisdom about when it’s appropriate to share certain things.

Also think about the goal of your sharing — Am I testing the other person to see if he/she will still love me? Am I sharing this to be hurtful? Am I sharing so as to obligate the other person to open up? Is it easier for me to talk than listen and ask questions? Am I sharing so as to control the flow of information and avoid awkward or difficult questions? Or sometimes the reverse may be true. Am I asking questions so as to control the conversation and avoid being forced to open up? Am I asking an honest question? Am I asking out of love? Am I asking because of selfishness, jealousy or some other intention to wound?

Bottom line: be honest with yourself and with each other, and take it one step at a time.