Before you read any further, let me assure you that this is not a piece about threesomes. And I’m not even asking you to answer the question posed in the title. I’m merely repeating the name of a section in Sex and the Single Girl on affairs. After posing the question, Helen went on to tell us of a 30-year-old, very fabulous-sounding friend of hers who was having sex “on the front seat of convertibles with twenty-year-old college boys” and “on yachts with dashing old men” as well as in “boarded-up summer cottages” and “unfamiliar bedrooms while a party was raging downstairs.” The friend’s most recent conquests, as of the book’s writing, included a “famous young actor” and “a blind date who’d made up a fourth for bridge.” At bridge!
I stand back in admiration of this woman.
Many, perhaps, don’t. Many—even in our modern day, post Sex and the City time—may think she sounds downright slutty.
But I just wonder how on earth she was able to manage such a situation, in her era or any other. Most women I know couldn’t maintain such a schedule for the sole reason that sleeping with a man does something funny to their vision: it prevents them from being able to see others, let alone consider sleeping with them, let alone sleep with them.
For me, it’s actually even more extreme than that. I don’t even need to be sleeping with a man for others to be rendered invisible; sometimes all I need is to be interested in one. This may sound noble—and may even be—but it’s also frustrating.
Take the situation I was in a few years ago when I was dating a guy who wasn’t really long-term relationship material. While somewhere, deep inside, I knew he wasn’t long-term relationship material, interest in a man can do something funny to my ability to accurately judge his most glaring red flags, let alone break off involvement with him because of them. It’s not that I can’t see them—it’s just that they become vague or justifiable or at least not relevant.
So I was dating one of those guys when a man I’d long admired began asking me out. I liked him but literally couldn’t see past my then-fixation so I explained that I couldn’t go out with him because of my feelings for the not-really-long-term-relationship-material guy. He expressed his honest opinion that this guy was a waste of my time. “He may be,” I said. “But it’s something I need to find out for myself.” By the time I’d discovered that he was right, the man I’d long admired had started dating someone else—a woman he ended up marrying.
I’m not saying that I should have started sleeping with him or that sleeping with more than one man at a time is a good idea. I’m just saying that the other way sounds like it may be less emotionally painful. I have a friend who’s able to sleep with more than one man at a time. She tells terrific stories, never sounds upset, and I’m always grateful I know her when I get an assignment from Maxim because she can provide me with more sex anecdotes than I know what to do with. But at the same time, I don’t really understand her. The other single women I know get involved with just one—usually one who’s cut from the same cloth as the not-really-long-term-relationship-material one I mentioned. The girl usually desperately wishes she could get herself to sleep with someone else since it would be a good way to get her mind off of that one guy; sometimes she even tries it. But inevitably she reports back that all the experience did was make her long for the guy she’s really interested in. For women, trying to spread the focus always seems to backfire.
And men—well, it’s hard to generalize about these things but I’ll never forget what a male friend of mine from college told me: essentially that if a man could guarantee that it would be kept secret, he would never turn down sex—no matter how committed or in love he was. Now I know that this statement says more about the guy who said it than about men in general but at least part of me believes it’s true.
Perhaps Helen’s friend had it figured out best—minus, arguably, her penchant for sex with old men. To be able to go around and have all that sex without oxytocin or female sexual shame getting in the way is something that I think would actually—dare I say—be liberating for women today.
Don’t believe me? Last time I spoke to that one friend who knew how to have casual sex, she’d fallen in love—with a guy cut from the not-really-long-term-relationship-material cloth. She was tormented and obsessed and sounded, in short, just like other women. I was disappointed—the way some Britney Spears fans may have been when they found out she wasn’t really a virgin. My idea that women could indeed have sex like men because I’d seen her do it was shattered.
Maybe more women like that are out there but I somehow end up only being friends with the one-guy girls. Or maybe Helen was doing some exaggerating. Or maybe, ironically, those footloose and fancy-free girls capable of carrying on simultaneous affairs are less common today than they were in her time. Recent studies are suggesting as much. But is all of this one-man focus really what’s best for single women?