Marisa had just been making fun of Dan. “All he can think of is that he can’t get some young body telling him he’s the most wonderful sexual superstar in the world. Really, you’re so sad, Dan the Man. Ask yourself, please, why this is so important to you? Can you not appreciate music or art if you can’t make it yourself? Why is so much of your self-esteem, your sense of self, caught up in the fact that little girls want little boys (or in some cases other little girls) to kiss them, rather than you? The important thing is loving, giving, not what you get in return. If you need something — a young body or a big house or a fast car or to be famous — you will always be poor, because you will always have less than what you need. Even if you get this thing you need you will find you need something else that you don’t have, and you will always be unhappy. If you give a lot, generously, because it gives you pleasure to do so, and if you need nothing, then you will always be rich and always be happy.”
Jack smiled. “Very wise. Thank you. I think the reason my friend has such trouble believing you is that we humans stupidly invented money, and with money comes the belief that somehow money can buy everything you could ever need or want, so it’s OK to be needy and acquisitive. And then having invented money we had to invent advertising to create more need and want for things that money could be spent on, so it would become scarce. Otherwise money wouldn’t be worth anything. And we had to create a hierarchy so that a few people would actually be able to buy anything money can buy, so that the consumers would keep believing anything can be bought and chasing more money and needing more. And the more need we’ve created the more unhappy and the more stingy we’ve become.” He sighed, and concluded, “Even with love.”
Verdad piped in: “I think you are mostly right — money is a part of it, this perception that everything, every fantasy, every escape, every source of happiness, can be bought if you pay enough for it. But I think, more than that, it’s a matter of idealism. Idealist men are often preoccupied with ideal sex — that perfect beauty and performance. Idealist women, I think, are more concerned with ideal relationships — if you’ve ever read a romance novela you’ll understand this (and if you haven’t, I’d recommend it). What idealist women want in a man is just as unattainable as the 23-year-old perfect female body the 50-year-old man craves. The idealist woman wants to be courted forever by an adoring, beautiful, exciting, brave, accommodating, protecting man. It’s just as dangerous and foolish a fantasy. It is about attention and appreciation that never ends, and we’ve come to believe we can buy or otherwise obtain these things, so, to the idealist, the impossible becomes possible, expectations are always out of reach, and the idealist is always disappointed, always wanting more. He is addicted to what he can’t have. It is really sad.”
Jack nodded. “I suppose. There’s another important difference between the ideal male and female fantasies you describe, though. The woman’s is connected, bonded, enduring, you know, the whole ‘touching souls’ and ‘happily ever after’ thing. The man’s is the opposite — frivolous, fun, free of responsibility, one-night, non-committal. What the woman wants can’t really be bought, but what the man wants can. The man can actually buy his way out of responsibility. And lust is irrational — we want to fuck who we want to fuck. We have no choice over it. It’s instinctive, hard-wired.”
Marisa laughed: “You have a pretty warped view of what women want, and what they are willing to give, Jack. And maybe what most men want too. It’s been said that men give love to get sex, and women give sex to get love, but that’s an oversimplification. Women aren’t all that different from men. If you put yourself in the position of a young woman, if you can do that, I think you’d see it more clearly. Young women are much like young men — uncertain of ourselves, full of anxiety and hormones, looking for love and for fun, and for relationships and careers to give our lives meaning. Young women want to kiss beautiful young men, and talk about things that only other young people can talk about. You and Dan have no context to know what we want and care about, who we are and what we need. Just as we have no context to understand you, so we dismiss you as — how you say — “dirty old men”. Of course we can talk about philosophy and politics and the purpose of life with you — and that is wonderful, it’s actually better talking with you about these things because you have more experiences that we can listen to and learn from, you have had more practice at living than we have. But young women are not so different from older women either. The song is not true: Girls don’t “just want to have fun”. I love all the guys in our commune, and I’m committed to them. We have responsibility to make our community work, to look after each other, to be always honest and to work very hard and to build relationships that will be durable.”
Verdad hugged her friend, and added: “There’s something else. We women of all ages have a secret. We sustain each other. What we don’t get from men we love, we get from other women. So we expect less from these men than men expect from women. The men we know who can’t be happy with one woman, who believe it is natural to have many relationships with women, don’t know that for many women, they can be happy with one man because they get other things from the women they love. That doesn’t mean we have to limit ourselves to one man, of course”. She winked at Marisa. “But we could.”
“Can I throw something out here in defence of us ‘dirty old men'”? Dan asked. He got smiles all around. “There’s a kind of self-reinforcing thing to our sexual fantasies about young babes with perfect bodies and perfect faces and an insatiable appetite for sex with us geezers and no interest at all in conversation. That’s the thing about fantasies. If you never realize them, you never have to come face to face with the realization that they’re impossible. You two are something else — I think you must be university professors in disguise — but I realize full well that after a night with what seemed to be my perfect fantasy I’d probably wake up with a woman with lots of hang-ups, remorse, unresolved issues. Maybe deep-seated anguish, or a hate-on for all men or some deep low self-esteem problem or unbearable neediness, not to mention a jealous boyfriend with anger management problems, or a sick relative sucking her dry emotionally and financially. I do remember what it’s like to be 23, and it’s not a bed of roses. Sometimes the fantasy is just better than the reality.”
“So you’re saying you keep this impossible fantasy even though you know it’s impossible?” asked Marisa. “And why? What are you running away from that this dream has such attraction for you? This seems a recipe to be forever unhappy. Perhaps it is time for you to grow up, if I may say that to a man…er…who is older than me.” She smiled a bit apologetically.
Dan smiled back. “Well maybe men are just more idealistic on average than women, but yeah, it’s a really nice fantasy, even though I know it’s probably impossible. I know some women, including some I’ve lived with, who have this fantasy about how their relationship with some guy they met back in high school might have turned out. It’s a fairy tale, but it has a real hold on some women. The “what might have been” guy is probably now an alcoholic or a wife-abuser or in prison or something, but as long as the woman doesn’t know, she can keep holding this “might have been” fantasy guy up as the model she judges everyone else by. I don’t see this as much different.”
Verdad nodded at Dan enthusiastically. “Yes, yes. Precisely. This is why, at this time in my life, I’m happy to love a lot of men, and learn from this, and avoid that kind of tragic fantasy. My motto is “no laments”. I want to be based in reality, live what is possible, and while I am also an idealist, I do not care for fantasy. I can love a guy and still see his faults, his scars, and just love him for what he is, not for what he could be.”
Marisa looked at her watch, and announced, “Please excuse us. Verdad and I have to go. We have duties back at the commune. But this has been wonderful, not at all what I had expected. You are true simpático men, Jack and Dan”. “I think both of you will learn to give up your fantasies and discover that reality is better, happier, has more meaning. I think you will find that women your own age can give you far more pleasure and true companionship and durable happiness than you believe, far more than anyone our age could give you. As a good friend of mine once said ‘We choose our own attractions. They are in us and grow with us.’ You will find I think you have more control over your fantasies than you believe. We cannot grow up until we give up our fantasies, our chasing after the impossible.”
“Ah”, said Verdad. “I have something else to give you, something our friend Seppe made in the commune. Is either of you a gardener?” When Jack nodded, she passed him a stone with these words engraved on it:
There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going.
“It is words by the diva Beverly Sills. Place it in your garden, Jack, and when you and Dan are talking together about your struggles, you will see it. It will give you strength. It will help you to move on. It’s time, I think, for you to move on.”
With that the two young women rose, smiled, hugged the older men (Marisa saying to each in Spanish and English, as she did, “Give more, need less”), and they departed. The waiter came over with the bill, and Jack and Dan just looked at each other, and shrugged. Jack paid the bill and signalled his friend to follow him. “Time to move on”, he said.
Many thanks to my brother Alan, my sister-in-law Morva, dear friends Andrew and Anona and Colleen and Melisa for their comments and ideas on this story, and on its conclusion. Image: Lions Gate Studios, by my neighbour Laura Tomona.
Category: Short Stories