22 May 2021

In Praise of Flings

Occasionally I write an essay that I just like, even if I don't really believe altogether...even if I think of myself as being more of an unreliable narrator than usual. I'll either just like the flow or the voice or a combination of both.

This was written for a class on the personal essay taken in November 2010. The text, including the note at the end, is the original. (Originally published 11/02/2010)

I sometimes think that I have loved best those who I have loved least: the women who I’ve had flings with, the women who never knew me. I am not talking about the vulgar rutting of drunken hook-ups, mind you. Hook-ups imply a certain coarseness that I avoid. No, the women with whom I have had flings were loved, if only briefly. And perhaps because it was so briefly that I can say that I loved them best. I did not burden them by giving them all my heart, but that did not stop me from giving them all of my adoring attention.

            In a relationship, passion eventually subsides. Eros gives way to subtler things. Subtler things succumb to the weight of the mundane and couples, despite their protestations and promises to the contrary, begin taking each other for granted. Every couple thinks they are the exception to this rule, but every couple recognizes this as a rule. “We’ll never be like that,” they say to each other and their friends reassuringly, but in a year or two or three or even less…they’re arguing over whose turn it is to take out the dog or who forgot to pay the fucking cable bill again or why the hell they hang out with that idiot and drink so much. It happens. It’s always sad when it does, but it happens. It’s not that everything goes to Hell all at once or that people shift gears and remain that way, but let’s face it…the passion is the first to go. And why shouldn’t it? You’ve got them, right? He’s not going to find anyone better than you, right? And she sure as Hell better not step out on you or else…right? Sure, you’re not just an option. Not just a choice. Nope. No…they would never…perish the thought!

            In a fling, the passion is all there is: two strangers absolutely and very simply desiring each other. Nothing else is expected or even wanted. Sometimes this lust emerges from some other desire. I love how you think. But sometimes it is very simply a glance on the sidewalk of a strange city, or a smile in a hotel lobby, or just a chance meeting with a stranger. I am not sure it matters what lights the fuse. Once it is lit, there is no turning back. Desire has a force of its own.

            When a relationship is new; when love is burgeoning, the entire world seems new. This feeling is a neuro-chemical effect, yes, but that does not detract from its power to intoxicate, to free us from the mundane, to liberate us from the personas that we must adopt in order to keep the peace, to maintain stability, to get along. Flings are everything wonderful about those first precious days or weeks or months, distilled into a matter of hours or a long weekend. Rather than end in a break-up or a screaming argument in front some awful restaurant where you’ve had your last sullen meal, a fling ends in a long glance back over your shoulder as your lover disappears into a crowd or a final kiss at the airport, your clothes still slightly askew. Better than that though, a fling leaves you with a feeling of possibility.  If it is possible to meet and love a perfect stranger, even if only for a day or two, what else might be possible? What else have you been overlooking in your life? What else can you do?

            Detractors will say that it cannot be love if it’s a stranger during a fling that you’re talking about, but I disagree. Chemically, there’s no difference. The brain doesn’t know any, that’s for certain. Dopamine floods the DA receptors. Serotonin levels diminish to obsessive levels, making it possible to pay attention to every new square inch of unmapped warm skin, still hot from a shower or just freed from rain-damp clothes. Oxytocin flows, adrenaline lights a fever, and everything comes alive in a chemical explosion of perfection, of longing, of wanting, of yes and yes and yes and yes. All of that without Monday morning combat over burnt toast and overcooked eggs? Yes, please. All of that with room service, cold champagne, and someone who’ll never see you at your worst? Sign me up.

            Sadly, it would be foolish and slightly ridiculous to attempt to go through life simply having flings. If you’re a man, eventually your friends and family will wonder when you’re going to grow up. If you’re a woman, you’ll suffer from the ignominious sexual double standard that marks you with the scarlet letter S. And in either case, eventually you’ll want something more permanent, something more stable. There’s plenty to be said for the madness of exhausting, sweaty, stocking-tearing, shirt-ripping, ecstasy-inducing, wall-shaking, neighbor-annoying sex, but there’s more to be said for it when it’s with someone who cares if you come home at night; who texts you to let you know they’re thinking of you at work, and who knows how you like your coffee.

            There’s plenty to be said for the security of having someone with whom you can grow old with; with whom you can raise a family, with whom you can see life’s troubles and triumphs with. Joy is exponentially more joyous when you can share it with someone, even if they occasionally hate you. Life is simply more fun when you have someone who knows you, who allows you your faults and quirks, and whose faults and quirks you have learned to love as part of something greater, something sweeter.

            Flings are fun, yes. But they are better, perhaps, as something remembered from the safety of a pair of arms that will not let you go, even for a glance from a perfect stranger. I may not have not always loved those best, but I have always loved them most. 

Author's note to friends and family: I will probably never grow up and settle down.  


ADG said...

Lovely writing. Flings helped me re-validate my relevance and worth after a protracted and devastating divorce. But I love how Scott Peck characterized "chemistry" ...defined by me as that broth of oxytocin, adrenaline, seratonin, and all other neurochemical concert players. As fun as the flush of neurowhateverishness is, bottom line is that it's nature's way of duping us into procreation.

And forget about growing up and settling down. As long as you are living your truth and can find peace in your journey, without harming-too much-others, to hell with growing up.


Main Line Sportsman said...

Insightful and well written. Even though I am married and closing in a 20 year anniversary...I recall clearly the fling sensation you describe. However, I much prefer the long term relationship you also praise and acknowledge...particularly since my lovely wife is as hot now as she was when I met her....
Glad yer back Buddy...missed your writing!