The Obsession of Desire
July 1, 2001
Her indecision turned him into a sucker
by Victor Paul Borg
hy do you want to be my friend?' I asked Thelma. 'Haven't you got enough friends? What are you getting from a friendship with me?'
'The intellectual provocation,' she replied. 'I find you fascinating.'
I wondered if this was a case of the modern woman befriending the poor novelist but stopping at the gates of love because I could not give her the lifestyle she desired? In any case, her reply was not what I wanted to elicit. I wanted to provoke her to think about why she kept sleeping in my bed - three times - and yet stopping short of a sexual relationship. I wanted, even, to pick an argument because I was feverish with desire, hence my bluntness which, I secretly hoped, would push Thelma away and free me from her grip.
We had bumped into each other in a club three weeks earlier, easing into that kind of conversation when it seems like you have known a person forever. As we chatted she stroked my thigh; I remember our legs entwined, and her smiles made me dizzy.
'I really like you,' I had murmured.
She said, 'Thank you.'
Then we kissed. But later that morning, back in my place, she became fidgety. Somehow, the closeness of our intimate cocoon made her claustrophobic. On our second date we were supposed to go to the cinema, but over a drink we warmed into one another and instead went home with a bottle of wine - then, an orgy of kissing later, she balked. She said she could not have a sexual relationship with me.
So we became friends. Or were we feigning friendship? It seemed like courtship to me. We called each other three times a week. We smiled at one another in that warm take-me fluster, and our discourse strummed with that passionate energy of talking to someone you fancy. Wasn't her insistence in reading everything I wrote too eager for a mere acquaintance? Or what about the hair-removing cream she brought round to remove the patch of unsightly hair at the base of my neck? Doesn't grooming one another mark the crossing of the threshold from disgust to deep endearment?
The third time we met, three weeks after we had made first contact, she came round for dinner. I made an effort to stay aloof and when my lust started boiling over and tears glazed my eyes, I guzzled two bottles of wine to drink myself to sleep. I told her she could either sleep in the spare bed or in my bed. She chose my bed: I lay on my side reading, but a typo was screaming off the page and I kept rereading the same paragraph. Halfway through the night she woke me up and I found myself cuddling her (my desire had filtered into mental recesses so deep that in the unconscious realm of sleep my intention to keep my hands off went AWOL). I had a sleepless night, roasted by my desire, spurred on by what I thought was the whiff of her craving - each time our feet or hands touched, we pressed contact for a tentative moment. In the morning I sprang out of bed earlier than her because the desire that scorched my skin would not allow me to fall back to sleep.
My friend Johnny said about Thelma: 'Go for it, she's a top person.'
My flatmate said: 'She seems great and really nice.'
Clutching my head in exasperation, I replied, 'Don't tell me that. Tell me she's a spoiled bitch.'
I had never before waited for an indecisive lover. In my breathless, impatient life, I've always known myself to be brutally selfish in love: show me sexual love or go. If sex did not materialise within two dates, I would switch off and the rest would be history.
So why change my tact for Thelma? Why, indeed? So blinded by desire was I that I could not see beyond Thelma. I woke up in the mornings to find her in my mind, I fell asleep every night thinking about her, and half of the day I thought about what conversation we would have if she called me. When I went out and looked at other women, even gorgeous ones, I saw Thelma's face. Perhaps the challenge of a possible conquest nourished my obsession, because an obsession it was: crushing, self-defeating, maddening - and yet I could not snap out of it. Call it a temporary lapse of sanity, call it a perverted addiction - or perhaps, was it the vivid memories of our first contact that gave me hope to cling to Thelma?
She was confused, too. For starters, she told me about that ex-lover; their relationship had sputtered dead five months ago, but the embers were still painfully hot. They met occasionally, though nothing happened. They were in limbo. So were we.
'Grab the bull by the horns,' I said. 'Confront him and make a clear decision. If the relationship kicks-starts, congratulations; if not, you can put it behind you.'
'You're right,' she said. 'But I'm afraid that if he wants me back, then I wouldn't want him.'
Oh Thelma, I groaned. Emotional baggage. Power struggles. The paradoxes and shortcomings of love dazzled her. She was looking for the perfect match, even if she knew she was chasing an utopia. She told me she craved children, and in the same breath admitted she was too selfish to have children. 'I can't give up my life for someone else,' she said.
I know about the dualities of love. I have slipped in and out of several live-in relationships. Lust fizzles, the relationship falls flat, monotony and boredom putrefy the remains of the relationship. I can count several lovers with whom I thought I wanted to be with forever but after the conquest of sex there was nothing left to consume. We're full of illusions, and our emotional somersaults bewilder us; maybe Thelma, if she yielded, would become another statistic of boom (sex), then bust (stillborn relationship). I am reckless and give free rein to emotional whims. On the downside, it was this internal tyranny that exacerbated my obsession with Thelma. Still, why can't we be reckless? Beating emotions into psychological logic is self-defeating; we have to treat emotions like children, leave them free to take directions we would rather they not take.
I said, 'Why can't we have casual sex, even once?'
'I don't want to have casual sex any more.'
So I became a sucker, one minute needy and skulking and the next angry and confused. I would drop anything to hold her hand or feel the silky tenderness of her belly.
'Maybe that's your problem,' she pointed out. 'You are giving me everything, and leaving no mystery for me to discover.'
All this psychological analysis was getting us nowhere. In conversations, as in our situation, we went round in circles. I wanted to give her the space to make up her mind, but three weeks after we met, the three sleepless nights we spent together left me more obsessed, more haunted, more bewildered, and clinging to a strand of abstract and perverted thought, What if?
'Look, our toilets,' she chirped as I walked her to the train station the morning after we spent our third night together. I had suggested a detour through the park. Yes, our toilets - that was the day after the night we had met, when we sat in the grass drinking chilled wine. We spoke about our childhoods. We exhumed our past relationships. We acted like two puppets smelling each other's bums, smooching and giggling, and when we went to the toilets and found them shut we peed under the chestnut tree, laughing at what seemed a childishly illicit act. Yes, our toilets - could I dare tell her that I thought about that day every time I went for a walk in the park?
After walking her to the train station I went back home and sniffed the pillow Thelma had rested her head on. The fragrance of shampoo masked the musty tang of her essence. Later that evening I told her about the pillow.
'You know what,' she said, 'before I left I smelled the pillow because I knew you would smell it.'
How much more can she read into my tethered desire and furtive imagination? The last time I heard from her she sent me a text message on my cell phone that read: about 2 go 2 bed, hope u r in top form. talk 2 u soon, thelma xx. When I snuggled underneath my duvet that night I sought out Thelma in my thoughts. She came in spirit; in my imagination she lay next to me. I wondered if in the purity of her imagination, where there are no fears and no emotional baggage and no paradoxes, I lay beside her too.
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