What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain under
My head till morning.
—Edna St. Vincent Millay
Usually, as a man, a sociologist, and a writer, I try to live in the present or, if necessary, in the future. But late one night, I found myself steeped in nostalgia. It was after a dinner party. All the dinner guests had left with the exception of a lifelong woman friend of mine, and we sat, talking as old friends do. Cozy in the glow of the dying embers of the fire and light-headed from having finished the last of the wine, we drifted into reminiscences of past loves.
Counting on her fingers and toes, my friend realized that over the years, she had had many lovers. How many? It doesn’t matter. Many. More than she could count on her fingers and toes. More than we could count on both our fingers and toes. Needless to say, the number was a long way from a “one and only,” but not all that many, given her thirty-five years of experience. As you may gather, she started young—sixteen to be exact—when sixteen was very young. At the time, the belief was that a “sweet sixteen” had never been kissed, much less initiated.
Looking back on her experiences, my friend believed that she had been very lucky. Men worth being loved by had loved her, and she had shared with them more magic moments than many people ever get to experience. She was lucky enough to have had two wonderful affairs that led to marriage and four other wonderful affairs that did not. For many years, she was happily monogamous. Yet, for one reason or another, the promised happily ever after did not pan out for her.
She had had some loving friendships that she cherished and some brief encounters. There were even some one-night stands, which were almost always a mistake. In the now classic musical My Fair Lady, Professor Higgins discusses the nature of men and immodestly concludes, “By and large, we are a marvelous sex!” He is right: by and large, men are marvelous . . . at least in my friend’s experience. They have been good to her, most of the time; and the elusive butterfly of love has, for the most part, lived up to its elusive promises of love. And yet, there were times when . . .
More next week…