Philip Roth was mostly famous for writing about sex and after he died in 2016 we got a biographical essay by one of his friends, the writer James Atlas, who recalls a lunch they’d had years prior, when Roth was in his 70s.
Roth tells him in advance that he’s got some good news.
Atlas is eager to hear it.
Roth arrives at the restaurant, ebullient, and reveals, “I’m over sex!” Then settles into the idea. “I thought it would never happen.”
Something like that.
And it comes to mind now with respect to something I’ll tell you in confidence even though it’s fairly old news, I’ve written here about some facets of the situation already, but I find myself romantically smitten with somebody for whom the feeling is not reciprocated–and yet!, there’s no torment. We go out and I delight in her company and she in mine and…it’s hard to explain but it feels like, if our friendship were a room, there’s a big empty space in a corner that could beautifully, in my opinion, accommodate a great piece of furniture that I’d call Dating. It isn’t an absence, but I’m kinda just…marginally aware, about 68% of the time, of how nicely it would fit.
This feels like a breakthrough.
I’ll agree if you tell me that this is a belated kind of maturity but for my whole life up to now I think it would simply have been frustrating and depressing to hang out platonically with someone for whom I had heavy romantic feelings. I’ve done it, but never been very good at it. I get angsty afterward and stare at bodies of water like I’m in a music video.
What I’m wondering about this easy friendship with a crush (“crush” is maybe too light a term?) is whether it’s circumstantial or if, like Roth’s retiring libido, some internal accountant has just decided that it’s no longer prudent to be worked up and sorrowful about these things. Friends, after all, are heard to come by and if you can find somebody with whom conversation comes easily and pays dividends in the form of laughter and empathy and intellectual stimulation, well.
You can get over the fact that kisses will be applied to the cheek and only the cheek.
That’s a simplification, obviously, some tough self-love. Because what does come to mind when you meet such a person in your late twenties is the idea of “settling down” which I think means sharing a livingspace where my spouse allows me to paint a single wall Coca-Cola red and also where I have a chair that is My Chair and is occupied mostly just by me and sometimes the dog in my lap, who is wirehaired, and who is also surely named Leonard and whom we have adopted from a place that treated him OK and whodoes not bark at frivolous things because this household’s vibe is one of calm, you see?, a household where my partner probably works someplace out in the world, maybe a business of her own or a university or public office, while I stay put with Leonard in My Chair and tend my writing and podcasting responsibilities during the day and then when she’s back in the evening, and we do the cocktail-dinner mambo, she can tell me about outside things and I can tell her about inside things—
—what I’m saying is that I’m not immune to daydreams and sap, but I’m getting much better at putting them in their place.