Anna and I met for drinks.
We haven’t done that more than a handful of times since our first date, a year and a half ago.
I had other plans for dinner, so we would be unable to extend the evening. We were just meeting to bend elbows during happy hour.
This was her plan.
As we tested the waters of our latest reconciliation, she proposed that we go a while without sex in order to share different kinds of experiences.
This after she tested the waters by instant messaging her regret that I was unavailable for a booty call when she was horny.
She was a little all over the place with this plan.
Anna and I are easily distracted by the great sex we have. When we tetter to our “off again” moments, she laments that we spend too little time going to movies, eating at restaurants and looking at art—you know, normal stuff.
Maybe if we turned off the sex switch, she reasoned, we would be encouraged to do other things.
I was game. I wanted to do whatever we could to address her apprehensions about the state of things.
Drinks went well, though Anna’s analytical mind was self-conscious of the situation.
“Weird that we are sitting here in clothes,” she observed, twirling her glass on the table.
“You look very nice in clothes,” I said. “Tell me about your day.”
When we parted, she kissed me goodbye.
“Do you want to meet for lunch this week?” she asked.
“Sure. Let’s aim for Thursday.”
“Sounds good,” she nodded. She paused. “Can I ask you about your dinner plans this evening?”
I expected this. “Yes?”
“Is this with someone you are going to have sex with tonight?”
“No, it isn’t.” This was the truth, and all I cared to say on the subject. “See you Thursday!”
She looked dubious.
On Thursday, she arrived at my place for lunch, about an hour later than we had agreed. I let it pass.
“I made fried chicken for the kids last night,” I offered. “There is plenty left over. I figured we could have that cold, with some watermelon and a salad.”
“Sound very good,” she nodded.
We sat on the couch, catching up. As we talked, she took my leg into her lap. She rubbed my calves and lower thighs.
Her hand traveled up my leg.
I rested my forehead against one hand. My other hand was in my lap.
I kept the conversation light.
“Can I ask you a question?” she inquired, her hand inside my shorts, caressing my hip.
“Why are you so dead set against monogamy?”
A whole new cache of Jackson Pollock paintings has surfaced—but are they authentic?
There is a new theory explaining how King Tut met his early demise—but does it fly?
The White Stripes put a piano on their new album—the end of their spare instrumentation, or a new direction within it?
So many interesting things to talk about.
And yet this is the conversation we keep having.
“I just don’t understand your position,” she said, tracing her fingers on my flesh.
“Yes, you do. We’ve had this talk many times. Are you hungry?”
“I understand that you believe you were burned by monogamy in your marriage. But, you know, I’m not your ex.”
“And I am not an abstract idea, some idea about monogamy. I’m a real person. Me. Anna.”
“So why don’t you want to try monogamy again, with me?”
“I’m just not interested in a monogamous relationship right now. I’m still getting divorced. It just doesn’t appeal to me.” I took her wrist from my shorts, and held her hand. “How about some fried chicken?”
“Okay, I get it,” she sighed. “Fine, let’s eat.”
She ate quietly.
A few days later, she instant messaged me as the kids watched television. She wanted to schedule a date for the coming week. My calendar was pretty full.
Anna: Henry, if you want me to be a part of your life in some way, a little more effort has to take place on your part. I’ve been really understanding of your situation. I’ve tried to be patient. Sometimes I’ve succeeded, sometimes I’ve failed. I suspect that I’ve been more persistent than most in terms of trying to keep some kind of relationship going with you, given all of the challenges that accompany you.
Henry: You are persistent all right. I’ve never been in a relationship so analyzed as this one
Anna: I don’t think its analysis so much as trying to communicate. Listen, if you don’t want to be with someone who thinks and talks about what she thinks, then tell me to get lost.
Henry: I think “our relationship” easily rates as our “most frequent conversation topic.” Just above “go ahead and dump me.”
Anna: Touche. You’re deceptively easy to be with on the one hand. On the other, you’re really inflexible. I’d like to talk about other things, but things don’t change much. You even admitted as much yourself. The reason I keep talking about “our relationship” is that it’s not been a fair one.
Henry: I more than admit it—I anticipate it. Things won’t change much for me right now.
Anna: All I’ve wanted is a little more fairness and time for us to know each other better. Is that more change than you can handle? I want a companion to experience things with. Is that an unreasonable thing to want?
Henry: I think it is reasonable. I just fret being dumped again, because I can’t do much to carve out more time.
Anna: For one, I didn’t dump you.
Anna: We’re on a break, not a breakup.
Anna: I think I’ve seen you just about the same amount of time since the break as I would have had we continued as before. The primary difference has been the lack of sex. And it’s not for lack of desire or out of a rejection of you. I want you as much as ever. I have faith that you care for me and appreciate me in many different ways. Sometimes, I just need to have it demonstrated, manifested.
Henry: I appreciate that.
Anna: What would you like from me, dearest?
Henry: I want you to be happy with our relationship. That’s about all I want from you.
Anna: Do you want our relationship to continue as it was before? Because I will have a very hard time being happy with that. Henry, you can’t even try it for a short period of time, say six weeks? And at the end of that if you’re really unhappy or unable to stand it you can go back to doing things the way you want. You wouldn’t be able to offer even that much?
Henry: Six weeks? What’s that? You mean, you want to continue the experiment of not having sex for six weeks?
Anna: What I mean is, can you see just me for six weeks? That’s not a long time.
Henry: I don’t follow.
Anna: I’m talking about your not fucking anyone else when you return to fucking me. For a period of six weeks.
Henry: What would be the benefit of that?
Anna: Think of it as a trial subscription. If you don’t like it, you can go back to seeing other people.
Henry: A trial subscription suggests an interest in an extended subscription. And I am in no way interested in a monogamous relationship. That won’t be any less true after six weeks. I mean, what would you think in week seven, when I went back to seeing others?
Anna: I would think it’s not going to work out for us.
Collie stood at my elbow.
“Dad, I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?”
“Ummm, hang on,” I mumbled, distracted as I typed a response.
Collie stood quietly.
“Dad,” he asked. “What’s ‘mono-game-mouse?”
“Hmmm? Oh, Collie . . . well, for dinner we are having pasta. You want to help me make it?”
“Yes!” He jumped excitedly. “But what’s ‘mono’ . . .”
Henry: I have to go make dinner. Will you be on later?
Anna: Go, super Dad. I’ll be here.
“Come on, Collie, let’s cook. And ‘monogamy’ is when two people love each other and decide to be a couple. They don’t date other people.”
“Oh. Like you and mom . . . before.”
“Yes. Here, you can wash and cut the mushrooms while I do the onions.”
I later found this email in my inbox:
I called and left you a message to call me back. You can ignore that.
I don’t want to continue our relationship. I’m not happy with it, haven’t been happy with it for some time. The balance of time between being with you (which has been really wonderful and has made me very happy) and being without you was too heavily tilted towards the latter. You’ve admitted that you don’t change. What’s worse is that I feel like you don’t even want to try. I’m not talking about your sexuality, which is yours and yours alone to decide how you want to express it. You’ve made that very clear and I don’t even want to touch that subject anymore. I understand you have a full life and a number of responsibilities. I had no choice but to be accepting, flexible and adaptable to all of the conditions in your life. I had also been very clear about wanting more time with you, for which I felt like I was always last in line. I’m tired of being left with the dregs of your time and the occasional chance opening when it seems like all of your other social options have been exhausted.
It’s not that having more time with you would solve everything either.
I told you that I wanted the kind of exchange and rapport with each other that we had sexually to extend to other aspects of our relationship. You were so open and generous in the bedroom. When we had been together, I felt that we were both there for each other’s pleasure which only increased our own individual ecstasies. There was a mutuality there that I didn’t think was possible for me. Unfortunately, I don’t think you’re ready or capable of that outside of the sexual part of our relationship.
I did not ask for anything unreasonable or unfair. But after over a year of asking for the same, it’s gotten to the point where I feel like it’s hopeless even to try. If there’s no hope in the relationship, but plenty of frustration and disappointment (and the expectation of more of the same), there’s not enough reason for me to stay. Continuing with you without any hope of anything shifting even slightly feels like living out one of Samuel Beckett’s plays, over and over and over again.
I knew from our first meeting that dating you would be a challenge. I wanted to give you a fair chance. I think I did more than that. I’m sorry for the trials and tribulations, as you put them. They were just a part of my trying to fit myself into a situation that wasn’t comfortable and wasn’t going to get any better. I really enjoyed being with you.
Thank you for the time that we did share and the privilege of meeting your kids. I don’t think it is realistic to try to be friends at least for a very long time. Take care of yourself, Henry. I wish you and your family only the best.
I could salvage this.
I could agree to a six-week trial period as a monogamous boyfriend. But that would be a failure. It’s just not what I want.
I could reorganize my life to spend more time with Anna. But it wouldn’t be enough time.
I could write a very grown-up response. Somehow, I want Anna in my life. But I don’t want her to be miserable, wishing for something I am not offering.
Do what you have to do, Anna.
You know where to find me.