Open Letter to Patti Smith, Day 9
Last Thursday, I was sitting in long meeting, the kind that goes on for hours, and someone said something about being welcome, and I started writing this poem:
Who I want
Like I am not
Still slick with
All the ways
I haven’t been loved.
I want to want you
Like desire is a blessing
And that’s as far as I’ve gotten.
I think it may be a good poem. If I can stick the landing. I think it may be a good poem even if that first line is a lie.
I’ve tried to lay down the welcome mat for someone. In my 20s and early 30s I convinced myself that throwing myself at men who weren’t interested for one reason or the other was the same as putting myself out there. I was so good at it that it wasn’t until my 40s that I realized my genius for convincing myself I was trying, really really trying to find someone, when what I was actually doing was hiding, really really hiding.
My friend Joyce tries to get me to smile. And when I see a man who interests me–on the Metro, at a museum, at Whole Foods–I know I should smile, I know I should open myself up in some way, and I just can’t.
I’m not asexual, I don’t think, although having been celibate for 15 years now, maybe I’ve become asexual by default. The celibacy wasn’t supposed to last that long. I just wasn’t supposed to sleep with anyone anymore–not that there had been even a handful of men and I didn’t even start till I was 23 or 24–unless I was in a relationship, unless I felt safe. I made that decision the summer before I moved to DC for grad school, sure that a new city, a new school, new people meant that surely I’d find love.
And I have found love. More love than I could ever have imagined I deserved. People who care for me so much—even when I break dates at the last minute, or give into my anxiety, or let my bossy side take over, or take months to do the thing I said I would do tomorrow—that it astonishes me.
There are men I love, too. Who want to hang out with me and talk about what we’re reading and what we’re listening to on Spotify and what we’re watching on TV and who celebrate my work and tell their friends how smart I am and make fun of me in that way that lets me know how much I’m adored. Men over whose graves I know I will weep many tears some day, whose loss will be immeasurable. But they’re married or gay and nothing more than friends, though our friendships are deeply rooted and meaningful, and they are utterly safe for me to love with all my heart.
There’s that word again–safe. I don’t know precisely why romantic love feels so unsafe to me. I grew up in a family where infidelity was the norm, so much so that at my Dad’s funeral, a cousin just slightly younger than I am told me it was fine for a man to have a mistress as long as he could support a mistress and his wife.*
But other women in my family who grew up in the same way have managed to let men in, to figure out how to love that way and be loved. I don’t think I’m scared of sex (though I am not looking forward to the inevitable sort-of virginal fumbling and awkwardness that’s sure to ensue the next time I have sex). I know I’m not broken–I gave up that way of thinking about myself a few years ago (which wasn’t nearly soon enough but at least I finally did it.) Is it a form of selfishness on my part? Am I just stubborn? Is it some fear that’s so far down I can’t yet figure out how to reach it, or even where it started? Is deciding not to pursue the answer to that question at all giving up, or is it acceptance? Am I asking the wrong question yet again?
*Oh, how I wish I was making this up!