Thinking of Love: Nonverbally

I recently had an epiphany about romantic, expressive men.  And for a bonus, I also got the elusive relationship closure that so many of us seek.  It was a surprise gift from the universe. . .and my unsuspecting husband, Tony.

On New Year’s Day, I ran into a lover from my deep, dark past.  He, his grown daughter, my husband and I sat for about thirty minutes socializing, very quickly catching up. Meanwhile, Former Lover kept, as they say, making eyes at me.

This was not an affair that had ended well.  But it had ended so long ago, I no longer hurt to see him or speak with him.  We are both plumper, a tad greyer, and definitely more lined, but it felt like we had just seen each other the last week.  We chatted and joked briefly, and then my husband and I climbed into our minivan and sped away.

That was not the closure.  Former Lover had been a man who, met years after I lost my virginity, had actually woken my sex drive.  Our connection, though doomed, was immediate and ridiculously hard to define.

He was a musician and an artist.  No matter what time of day or night, he had some instrument of creation in his hands, a drum stick, a worn nub of charcoal, a guitar, maybe even a teapot.  It was not the Art or the Music that seduced me as is cliche; instead, his sheer joy while lost in his work and play was impossibly attractive. Oh, and he was.  . .is British, for all you Anglophiles out there.  I know, a sexual awakening, creative Brit?  Aren’t they supposed to be uptight and cold?  He wasn’t. Former Lover was prone to saying things about his heart beating faster or not being able to think straight when I was near.  And when words failed him, his body never did.

Much later, a short year into my relationship with my husband,  I was uncomfortable and feeling insecure.  I knew he loved me; he tells me so every day, in those exact words..  But. . .something was missing.  We had more than a few conflicts over the fact that he doesn’t give physical compliments very often.  And if he does, they come across as forced or awkward.  “Uh, well, don’t you look cute. . .”  At first, I just thought he was not verbal.  But, no, he was voted most talkative in his high school.  He can articulate. In fact, he fully compliments my cooking or my intelligence all the time. And one of his greatest assets his how much we talk, late into the night.

I then suspected that maybe, though attached to me, he didn’t really find me sexy or even pretty.  I figured, he was a practical man who had made a practical choice and had married the smart, talkative, nurturer, instead of the empty, distant model.  He would get perturbed, annoyed and then angry with me for voicing these thoughts.  But I periodically have had trouble shaking this sinking feeling.

I said to him, “There have been men in love with me before, a number of them who wanted to marry me. I KNOW what it feels like to have a man want me.”  And this wasn’t it.

I reflected back on the men who had loved me, some of whom I had loved in return.  All of them had been expressive about their love and their desire.  They would tell me how gorgeous my eyes were when they gazed longingly into them.  One man used to sigh into my then long, curly hair and go on and on about how he wanted to one day die in it.  (Not as creepy as it sounds when you are in the middle of being loved.)   One used to tell me I had the most delightful ass on the planet. Another, as I mentioned, described how pit-pattery he felt.  I believed every single word from these men. It was the passion they exuded, the eyes that seemed only for me, that made their musings true.  They openly and verbally reacted to my attempts to look nice when I dressed up, to my natural appearance, and my very smell.

NO, I am not a raving beauty.  But these were men who knew how to make me feel like I was.

And my husband isn’t one of those men.  Yet, that expressive passion I enjoyed from former beaus, even my ex-husband and Former Lover, is how I have always felt about my man. Tony.  He drives me insane with desire: His smarts, his goodness, his love making, his very being.  (To gain a picture, he somewhat resembles Clint Eastwood from the early Dirty Harry days. In fact, I had never found Clint a sex symbol until I fell in love with my husband.)  Whatever this former lover awakened in me, my husband puts to bed in the very best way.  He is the sort of lover every woman wants-gentle at times, considerate, but with just the right amount of manhandling to get his way.  I compliment him all the time.  I’d finally come to believe that inside, My husband feels the same way, when once, frustrated at my insecurities, he shouted, “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me.” Enough Said.

So. . .a few weeks after this reunion, you might suspect how I’d react to receiving an effusive email from Former Lover.  (He knows people who know me.)   In it, he expressed how much he was still feeling toward me, and easily tossed out these words:  “My relationship with you was the most honest, intelligent, intuitive, erotic, and fulfilling of my life.  You got into my psyche more deeply than anyone ever did.”  He went on to express how he wished we had married all those years ago, issues be damned, and gone and lived the last two decades together.  In less than so many words, he was secretly seeing if I was “available.”

Nice to hear 20 years later, eh?  Do you wonder if I was tempted?  He was off to Central America in a few weeks.  I could easily jump on a plane and restart my life all over again.

I was stunned.  Angry a little at the tardy sentiment.  Envious of once again hearing such fine words. Irritated that he thought it appropriate to interfere in my love cocoon.  But also tickled pink. Tickled, tickled, tickled.

Though Former Lover hoped I’d keep all this hush-hush, I immediately told my husband, full transparency.  I was uncertain how he’d take it.

In stride. His first comment: “See, you still got it, Baby.”  Well, hmmm. Okay, yes. After how many gained lines and pounds?  “This guy sees you after 20 years and thinks to himself, ‘I want some more of her. I made a grave mistake all those years ago.’”

I also told my husband how sometime earlier last year I had written an amends to this Former Lover-we both owed one to the other for blowing up quite a lot of our world when we imploded as lovers.  I had tried writing before years before, but now, in Al-Anon and working a 12 step program, I felt the need to do so, with full responsibility. I’d written a heartfelt note, but suddenly my computer frizzed as it can do.  My words of contrition all disappeared.  I saw this as a sign to keep my mouth shut and mind my business.

Tony tells me this:  “Making an amends is for you.  God knows you did so with good intent, and cleared your mind. It doesn’t matter that the guy didn’t receive it. That this guy surfaces only months later, we run into him accidently, and now he is ‘resmitten’ with you, gives you a sense that what had happened years ago was real, true emotions on both sides.  Doesn’t that feel good to know now?”

There’s the closure, especially since I can respond with an amends now.

Here’s the epiphany:  All the men who have loved me in the past have been EXPRESSERS in various ways, artists, writers, musicians, even a stand-up comic.  They dealt daily in the world of sharing what was inside their hearts and souls.  I had veered away from men like Tony-business and math-minded, practical, relatively conservative.  In college, those practical guys had been the ones who seemed too preppy, they peed in the ice machines, and date-raped women in their fraternity houses. (How’s that for a childish generalization.) I stayed away from them.  But somewhere in my middle age, I got sick of the liberally slanted men.  Getting a divorce from my son’s Dad, an artist who had taken over a decade to figure out a career where he could actually contribute money to the household had left me cold.  And all my other boyfriends-even this Former Lover in question- had spent their lives stumbling  along, too, leaving all the heavy lifting to their wives or girlfriends.

Opening my mind, once I was single again, I found this trustworthy, practical, dependable Man, Tony,( . . .and yes, a former frat boy,) who has trouble verbalizing his attraction and his love for me in more words than “I love you, Baby.”

I had sacrificed the oh, so easy sway of big, fat words, for the strength of a solid man’s man.  And I’ve only benefited.

Those loving words in the former lover’s email were very pretty.  But also extremely simple to say, and not do for that guy.  My husband finds it much easier to do than say.  He understands commitment in a way no one else in my world ever has- takes care of his part of our world and then spoons me to sleep.  He also stands in the greeting card aisle for hours, reading all the cards to find one that says what he cannot.

The other night, my oldest son met his Dad for a movie.  After the film, en-route to somewhere else, he had a crappy flat tire on a major highway, and couldn’t get the spare loose.  Whom did he call?  Not his artsy-emotional Dad whom he had just left, but his step-Dad, Tony who quickly gave him directions to wait in the car safely till he got there.

This stoic man is the love of my life; I’m his, and we both know it.

Beholders for Sale

Absolute Beauty?

To say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, gives the beholder waaay too much credit.

Remember the girl you envied in high school for her awesome “claw”-the towering, teased out bangs that hung somehow both above and over her forehead like a bear’s paw waiting to open up her scalp? Still like that look? What about the mullet? Was it really EVER a party in the back? How about super heavy eyebrows? If this could just return, not only could salons glue on expensive lashes as they do today, but costly fur-extensions above your eyes! But we decided somewhere in the 90s that, No, that’s just hideous. What about parachute pants, orange tans, or monochromatic suits and matching makeup?

Obviously, we cannot be trusted to judge what’s beautiful, because our own tastes not only shift, but can be shaped by a constant barrage of media images. Kate Moss’s body would not have ever been seen as lovely three hundred, maybe even a hundred-fifty years ago. Ditto for a young Arnold Scwarzenegger’s, believe it or not. Rubens’ chicks anyone? Those sexy dumplings. . .Want one now?

Not only that, our own emotions make us ripe for ignorance. A guy whom I had long thought was modelesque, once I figured out after a few dates how utterly dull he was, suddenly all I could see was that crusty yuck that always seemed to be collected on the edge of his pink-rimmed eyes. And don’t tell me that’s never happened to you, where how you felt shaped what you saw, (more so when you were young.) Luckily, for me, my husband loves me in a way that his desire overlooks my own crusty eyes, and Rubenesque tummy.

When I was young, I could NOT see what the rest of womankind saw in George Clooney; his acting on ER annoyed me so much, those times when he’d tilt his head down at an angle, so he could look at a woman through his lashes, with a mild sneer on his lips, the way he tossed his gelled hair (hat was actually untossable.) So. Heavy. Handed. Uggh. But. . .as his acting improved, and he stopped vamping, his beauty came into focus. I still prefer Benicio Del Toro, but again, can you really trust my fickle taste?

The scientists can do all the studies they want about the power of facial symmetry, but I’d say our tastes are so subjective to things beyond arithmetic, whom/what we call beautiful/attractive is a powerful commodity that plenty of industries (make-up, celebrities, art, fashion, home decor, cars, etc. ) want to control, and then own. That alone proves that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, but in the hands of whatever industry wants a piece of our “taste.” So let’s not call our view subjective; let’s call it producjective.

Capturing the Truth in Portraits

Image

I am not an artist, but I do draw and paint with some small talent.  Often, as gifts, I will paint a favored setting, pets, or even portraits for people I love. Those same folks then tell me I should try to sell my work.  (Right…Along with all the artists who actually are able to make a living this way.)  Maybe this is possible, but only for strangers. . .because painting the people I know is the most difficult thing for me to do.  Even as a writer, I have always found that the fiction I write is most stilted when I add real people, their real dialogue to the story.

What is it about knowing someone well that makes it nearly impossible to capture them on paper?  Their very essence blocks my view when I am sketching. Their needs strangle me, too, when I am shaping their noses, their chins.  I waffle between being the  ELLE magazine CGI master who thins out waist lines, straightens teeth, spaces out eyes, and the illustrator who is trying to capture what I see, what I know and love.

This past month, my parents celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary.  Years ago I drew a large pastel portrait of their four cocker spaniels, which they richly framed and placed in their kitchen.  They proudly brag to visitors how closely each dog resembles the real animals, long buried, long-loved.  This year I chose to pencil-sketch their four grandchildren, and it was tough going for me.  I had to practice sketch each child repeatedly.  When I was ready for the larger sheet, I threw out seven different drafts, before I balanced them into one sitting. The cockers were so much simpler. 

Too many things to consider. . .which child gets center stage?  Will one head be much bigger than the other, (which, of my sons, we do have large heads, to the point where the doctor delivering my youngest scared me so much the anesthesiologist cursed at her, when the doc complained about trying to grasp my son’s giant head. . .)  Do I remove the nose bump that drives my dramatic niece to feel suicidal.  Will my nephew’s long hair which is certain to change once he leaves middle school, date this picture like all middle-school pictures do. . .?  Will my oldest want his ever-present glasses on or off?  Strangers do not effect these decisions.  I have no emotional investment in their portraits.

However, capturing my family was filled with heart.

My nephew has a devilish grin and the family Irish/Scots twinkle in his eye.  Each plane of his face was once my brother’s as well.  My niece has gorgeous, strawberry blonde locks, and certain Celtic beauty.  Her eyes tell so much about her, even in a pencil rendering.  And she is the epitome of my mother when my mother was a teen. (I seem to be the only one who sees it, but I am correct.) My oldest son inherited his father’s broad Saxon face and jaw, but his head is covered in the tightest blonde curls of anyone in our family.  Who gave those to him?  He lamented them when a Tween, but now accepts them as a great conversation starter.  

My youngest, I struggled with his drawing the longest.  He has the most mirthful smile of all the children, laughs and giggles with abandon.  And he has his paternal grandmother’s eyes, hooded lids, delicate eyebrows.  Every single draft made my child look Chinese.  As Seinfeld would say, not that there’s anything wrong with that. . .except that my child is so definitely English, German,  Scotts, with his smooth pale skin and ruddy cheeks,  He is, of all the children, the most Tribal Germanic, but in my sketches, he looked like I had adopted him.

I couldn’t just draw them without feeling responsible for their very image.  I found that they represent the eyes of my whole family, blue in all our known generations, with green pacific tones, yellow sunbursts, or pure aquamarine sky, but all blue.  All four of them have my chin in varying forms. I had never noticed.  All of them have eyelashes to die for, curly, dark blonde.  All share the hint of a dimple tracing along one cheek, my Mom’s contribution, though fully pronounced in my youngest.  My back hurt (as fused backs do) drawing and shading, but I ended up simply feeling so in love with these kids that I was able to ignore the pain.  There is much I want to redo, but my parents welcomed it, and wouldn’t let me touch up anymore.

Of course. . .the children were still my harshest critics.  The boys liked the sketches well-enough, though felt this or that should be changed.  But they feel that way when they look at photographs of themselves. . . so I didn’t mind (even if my oldest thinks he looks like that guy from  King of the Hill). My niece, however, felt that I had made her much too pretty.  The failings of drawings. . .I was worried she’d hate hers the way one deletes an unphotogenic selfie.  But instead, she felt she didn’t live up to her own beauty.  Let me tell you,  I didn’t enhance anything about her.  To me, she is exactly as she is in that sketch.

If only we could get people to see in themselves what we see in them.