I refuse to make real New Year’s resolutions, but just before Christmas I resolve to start dating in a more measured way. I mean, like really dating with intent, not just…well, you know. But then I realize quickly that you can’t force such a relationship—it happens when it happens. Therefore, my dating app profile continues to read:
I was here
but you were gone,
so I left this note
to turn you on.
And just after New Year’s I match with two Englishmen, both married—one situation “open,” one not. The first “open” Englishman is too optimistic for me, the second too pessimistic. I guess cheating on your wife with your wife’s express permission can make you a little giddy, while cheating on your wife in the traditional sense can make you a little guilty.
To be honest, I feel both those emotions when I meet a married man on a dating app. Giddy because it’s naughty and no-strings and will probably be brief but intense, yet guilty for the exact same reasons. Exchanging flirty texts with them both, I try to remind myself of my resolution that is not a resolution. But then I also remind myself that life is short and all men, even married ones, make their own choices. Granted, I make my own choices too.
The first Englishman wants to come to my apartment to “cuddle,” but I make him wait. Let’s call him “Gary.” Eventually Gary finagles an extra pass to the conference he is attending. Oh, I forgot to say, I live in one of those cities that holds conference after conference. All is legal in my town—excessive gambling, smoking indoors, selling weed. Even prostitution, up north, though it’s not well regulated in the city proper either. I bet you’ve been here yourself, and that you’ve even partaken of some of our various legalized entertainments.
Anyway, Gary’s firm makes a hands-free sex toy for partners. The prototype is being exhibited at the conference. He actually lives in New York with his fifth-month pregnant wife, having immigrated a couple of years ago and hyphenated his surname with hers. His name tag reads quintessentially British—quite posh, actually. He’s quite posh—a Londoner’s crisp accent. Once a classical pianist and then a software developer, he’s currently a photographer of fine art. And sex toys, apparently. With my borrowed pass (I am “Christine” for the day), we tour the conference together. We see more sex toys—one that’s supposed to feel better than cunnilingus. We also see drones of foam and belts that help you keep your balance. Also, a little greenhouse with vertical planters, where you can sample their growing greens. We stop to try the medical massage chairs, where Gary knows one of the reps from a previous visit. She’s cute and blonde. I bet they met for drinks on one of those nights I had put him off. But I’m not jealous. That’s not my style. The massage chair is good—I sit back and relax and close my eyes, as Gary instructs.
As we walk on I brush my hand against his but then apologize. He says he doesn’t mind. I look up at him and he smiles so brilliantly I blush. He has a boyish face—like James Dean but even more youthful. He’s sent me pics—you know the kind—and his body is lean, boyish too. In person, he’s taller than I expected. I like looking up at him and catching his eye as we walk. We walk and walk, a mile or three over the course of an afternoon. We do sit for a bit for coffee, which he buys like a gallant. Two decaf lattes. Our time together is far too brief, as I’d expected. We hug and kiss when he walks me to my car in the underground lot—and it’s like magic, as I’d also expected. He says he wants to take me in my car, but I tell him we’re out of time. He looks at me knowingly. I tell him to come over after he and his workmates have gone to the strip club that night, a visit for which they’ve been comped as makers of sex toys. He says he will, but I know I won’t see him again. It’s just the way it is in this town.
Gary continues to text me intermittently as he makes his way home after the conference. First he travels further west, then back east. In his pics he’s always half-dressed with bedhead. First with no shirt—his belly sleek and cut; then with only a shirt—his hand cupping his junk. For such a posh boy, he’s such a naughty boy. In the meantime, I meet the second Englishman, whom we shall call “Mark.” I match with Mark literally just as I am about to leave home on Sunday evening to catch a one-act, one-hour play at an artsy downtown bar. I invite him along—they’re doing Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night on the actual twelfth of January, after all. You’d think an Englishman might enjoy seeing amateur American actors attempt to channel the Bard’s best, but he says that he’ll meet me after instead, maybe. I text him that words like “maybe” grant me leave to entertain other offers, and he says better not. He’s a dom—I can sense it immediately. And probably not a vanilla one. He’s too dark and brooding, but his pics on the app don’t flatter. I tell him I’ll text him after the play and we’ll see, but when the play ends and I exit the ladies, he’s there already, sitting at the bar. Dark curly hair, dark jeans and a dark leather jacket. I take the seat next him and ask if he’s Mark. I notice not one but two tarnished bands on each of his ring fingers straightaway. He hadn’t said he was married earlier, but we’d not really had much time to chat until now. But why two rings, I wonder? I don’t think I can ask yet. We talk about other stuff and order drinks but the bar is a little chaotic while the cast clears out. As it settles, he says he prefers the small bars to the sprawling clubs and casinos. Thanks me for taking him somewhere local. Within a half-hour he’s asked for our second date—which surprises me. He wants to see a show, and I recommend the right one. There’s really only one show worth seeing in town, though there are thousands more to waste your money on. We agree to see the show that stars the green fairy soon, sometime in the next six weeks, before he leaves town. Before he goes home to his wife.
Before I’ve even finished my bourbon, he asks if we can walk. It’s dark and chilly (for the desert, anyway) but the streets of the arts district are lit with what the Brits call “fairy lights.” It’s dreamy and really kind of romantic. I bump into his shoulder as we walk and laugh together. He has a slightly-off front tooth, maybe crooked or chipped or both. It’s charming. Mark has more meat on his bones than Gary, but he’s still quite fit. I have curves and I don’t deny them—and I do wonder why not one but two slender Englishmen matched me. Actually, I don’t wonder. Maybe I am an easy target.
I drive him back to his squadron’s hotel—he’s military and here for group training—and there’s no mention of coming up to his room, which I appreciate. He kisses my cheek like a playful brother or an untoward uncle-in-law and says he will investigate tickets for the show. When I get home, it’s late but we continue to WhatsApp—which leads to kinky chat and then phone sex. He wants to see me on Monday but I demure until Tuesday. He comes over and we talk about colonization. He surveys my bookshelves and asks if I think the British are to blame. I say Americans too, but it’s not really a matter of blame, now. It’s about what we do, how we treat each other. If we are lucky enough to be educated, we should use our knowledge to better understand our fellow men, especially those radically different from us. Then I say I’m talking too much and he says I like your talking, but he moves ever closer to me on the couch so I say but you don’t want to talk anymore, and then his mouth with its charming tooth is upon me.
What happens next is rather personal, but after I feel like we’ve lost some of our tension. I mean, that’s the point, I know, but it runs a little deeper. He lies in my bed on the diagonal, and while I run my hand over his back and sides and buttocks—I like texture, maybe too much—he tells me stories of tattoos and films and travels and jobs and books. His favorite book ever is On the Road, which I’ve yet to read. That breaks our bond a little, what little bond we’ve forged, and if you think this post-coital pillow talk is the peak of intimacy, let me correct you. He has a darkness about him—and not just his swarthy hair and brown skin, which is surprisingly tan for an Englishman. It’s the guilt maybe, or maybe it’s my guilt compounded by his guilt. We’ve just made love—yes, it was much like “making love,” in a way I hadn’t made love in a long time—and now we’re worlds apart. We talk for a couple of hours that way—he naked and me touching. I want to be able to recall every detail, because I see clearly now, in this brand new year in this brand new decade, that I need to fully and truly commit to my resolution that is not a resolution.