Wednesday, July 7, 2021

With or Without Lust?

I'll let you just react to this, before I get to my point. 

A few days ago, as I was driving home from work through a lovely and very old neighborhood (Haddonfield, NJ -- site of much Revolutionary War stuff and also the place in which the world's first "nearly complete" dinosaur skeleton was discovered [which is all irrelevant to my story]), I saw, on the sidewalk, a beautiful woman, probably in her late forties, casually dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, walking her dog in the dappled sunlight beneath the trees at the roadside. 

Being a gentleman of the ilk that has always been attracted to the beauty of a woman, I was looking in appreciation of said beauty, when she "caught" me. This all happened in a few seconds. I was driving; she turned to see who was passing; I was already looking at her.

Our eyes met... (Oh, stop. That's not where I'm going.) 

She smiled at me and I smiled at her. We shared a smile -- as I see it -- between Gen X-ers. The smile of a generation that was, I think, a bit more sexually comfortable than those that went before or came after. (I'm not saying everything was perfect with us; I don't have that kind of nostalgic lens, but, all things being equal, among healthy-minded Gen X-ers, we were pretty secure in our sexuality, by comparison.) 

Her smile was playful ("Haha -- I caught you looking"); my smile was a little sheepish ("E-heh...I uh..."). 

Her smile was a just a tiny bit flirtatious, with, maybe, a sprinkle of thanks, for the wordless compliment I was giving her: "I find you attractive." This phrase, contrary to popular belief, is not synonymous with: "You are an object to me." And the "compliment" goes no further than that appreciation and it was only a compliment because it was devoid of lasciviousness. 

I think of the Bible quotation, that a man "who gazes at a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart." The key component is "to lust after her." It's not about the looking, but the kind of looking one is doing. The intent

My smile was playfully apologetic, but it carried -- I hope -- what I felt: a respectful appreciation of her beauty; a small, yet meaningful connection between two humans, rooted deeply within our ancient, natural programming.  

It's daunting to write things like this, because one misstep in wording and someone will find fault based on the standards of some variant of the modern movements regarding sexuality. I've always taught my sons that sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of, but it should be a private thing between intimately involved parties. So, to write about "attraction" can seem counter to that advice, but, I think people need to write about the grays of sexuality (and of everything else), because we are losing any sense of nuanced thinking about...everything. 

In the Age Without Subtlety, ironically, everyone is "okay with" everything except "the game of love" -- hence (dare I mention it?), the demise of Pepe LePew. Modesty is lost in both men and women. Prostitutes and porn stars are afforded the respect of being called "sex workers." Modern pop music lyrics refer to explicit acts of sexuality with demeaning atitudes with no social or economic consequences, but someone who glances at a woman because he finds her beautiful and who looks for no other reason -- and with no ulterior motive -- than to appreciate that beauty opens himself up to all sorts of criticism. 

Admittedly, it all stands on the edge of a knife, though, doesn't it? Shift the smile or perceive the smile just a bit off-center, and it becomes a leer and a leer is certainly an insult and a sign of lascivious intent...but for us two, it was, as the youngins are all saying, "all good." We made each other smile. That is what used to be the magic in the dynamics of the sexes -- the game of attraction was fun to play (as long -- and this is essential -- as the woman had the final say in the outcome). 

Speaking of the comfort of Gen X: yes, in case you are wondering, my wife will read this. But that does not matter, in the least. I already talked about this incident with her and we aleady had a philosophical conversation about it. She is neither threatened nor angry. She knows who I am. She knows I am loyal to her for life. And, under similar circumstances, she would have reacted just as this woman did. My wife appreciates being appreciated for her beauty, as well, and her day would have been brightened just a bit by the "compliment" of being respectfully "looked at" by a man. 

My final point? This, to me, was a healthy exchange -- however brief -- between two people in a similar mindset. I've gone past the point of wanting to tell people what to think, but I do wish the dynamics of the sexes these days wasn't so pre-loaded with paranoia. The safety and respect of women is paramount, but I wish raising awareness about this real issues in male predatory behavior didn't have to create immediate suspicion of the motivations of the every, kind-hearted but sexually healthy male in the world. 

Somewhere along the line, the game of love became a chess match. It's a little sad, that's all.  If you don't believe that this has happened, consider: I recently taught Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" and some of my high school kids didn't like that the young men were in "mad pursuit" of the young women. 

They didn't see it, as Keats did, as "wild ecstasy." The best they could do was to call it "cringey."