Throwback Edition: In The Middle
Plus, starting again to 50, why are men so bad at sex, and a seasonally appropriate pun
I write to you from my perch on an absurdly white couch in a sunny apartment in Lisbon. I’d never been to the city before this week and, for whatever reason, I didn’t expect to love it. Part of me simply wasn’t in a city mood after spending the past two months in the jungle, but this place has quickly and thoroughly charmed me. The sky is an alarming shade of blue—cerulean is how I’d describe it if I were writing a travel piece about Lisbon. Everywhere I look, my eyes are met by the most pleasant colors and patterns; jewel tone tiles, sparking green, sweet pink, deep yellow, and golden hour bathes the entire city in an elysian light that makes everyone look ten times more beautiful. I’ve been doing a lot of this but also, I’ve been thinking a lot about love and, subsequently, doing a healthy amount of crying. It’s impossible not to be ushered into a love-adjacent mental space after spending any substantive amount of time in Europe, at least not for me.
Love has always made me cry. Both times in my life when I told a partner I loved them for the first time and meant it, I cried. Not a cute, single-tear sort of crying but a full-fledged waterworks extravaganza. According to an astrologist whom I met at a party earlier this year, I “love purely” and because of this, I should be careful about who I dole my love out to. And careful I am, dear readers! This girl is a master at locking up her love in a little box and throwing it into the ocean, á la Rose’s lost locket in Titanic. But much like Rose’s locket, the story of the love I try to lock in a little box will always find its way back to me, even when I would prefer to leave it down there with the fish and the seaweed.
Because I cannot stop torturing my poor, sensitive soul with thoughts of impossible love this week, I bring you a throwback edition that reminds me I’ve always been this way. So sit back, read the essay, cry a little bit, and then put on this song—one of the sweetest of all time!—grab your beloved and dance with them or just stare them in the eyes for the whole two minutes and 20 seconds while you think about how lucky you are to be sharing with them the single greatest gift of human existence—love! Wowza! And, while we’re giving directives, consider pulling out that wallet and opting for a paid subscription to this newsletter. You love it, I love it, I love you, and we all love to pay writers!
Until next week,
A Note From the Editor
The day I saw him take her hand under the cafeteria table, my jaw hung open. How did I miss this, I wondered, for I had been spending several hours each day in their company while working at a writing sleepaway camp and hadn’t noticed the slightest spark between them. I had witnessed them individually and formed hushed opinions about who they were now, at 16 or 17, and who they might turn out to be. I knew he was sensitive, quiet but not without opinions. The other kids looked up to him and in a way I did, too. He felt like someone much older, much wiser, packaged in a body of gangly limbs and innocent eyes. She was indifferent, seemingly disconnected in her heavy eyeliner. But outside of the group setting, when the adults weren’t around, she blossomed into something else—the funny one, confident and deadpan.
The day he took her hand, maybe for the first time or maybe for the tenth, I was made to remember the innocence of youth, the virtue of young love. I could see the nerves shooting out of him like electrical sparks every time he reached for her, the way his shoulders would relax on those rare occasions she reached for him. They walked side by side, close enough that their shoulders and the backs of their hands would intermittently brush. I got the sense that if I were to peel back the layers of this energy between them, I would find nothing but a clean foundation. No rot, no corrosion. nothing ulterior about it. At the end of the two weeks, I watched the beginning of their goodbye. They sat huddled close to one another on the damp grass, his arm around her shoulders, his free hand fiddling with hers. They didn’t speak but I could imagine what they might be thinking: is this the end? Will you remember me, after? And, in the sweet naivete of adolescence, I will always want to be next to you.
Lately, love has been lurking every place I look. Maybe this was always the case and I just chose not to notice it. While walking across a crowded, picturesque bridge in France, I saw a couple in their mid-70s, tongues flailing about like two teenagers who just escaped the penetrating eyes of their parents. It was a Tuesday, in the middle of the day. I giggled and couldn't stop giggling. Another day, I saw an old man pushing his wife in a wheelchair. She was covered in blankets despite the day's warmth, her eyes were closed and her chair was so reclined that it practically lay flat. He walked slowly, his back hunched, hands bracing the chair for support, and he stopped right in the middle of the running path as I watched. He turned her chair so it was facing the mountains and went to stand next to her. The ordinariness of it, growing older, caring for someone until the end, it was almost too much to bear. I cried and cried, unable to pull my eyes away. As the sun hit their faces, I thought, this is what love is. This is the whole point.
In a recent episode of my favorite podcast, poet Nikki Giovanni said, “I know this; I was born, I’m gonna die, and the only thing I have to do in the middle is find someone to love.’ The host said what I was thinking, “Is it really that simple?” But perhaps it is. Much of our lives are frivolous and without meaning. We fill our days with activity, we fret over how we present to the world, we step on scales and watch television, we eat salads and wash our hands and feel proud when we remember to send birthday cards in the mail all as the world around us continues to deteriorate. When I let my mind linger on the gross injustices of our eroding systems, and when I read the climate reports that remind me of our carelessness and self-destruction, I can easily slip into a thick, heavy pool of hopelessness.
But then I remember that quote: The only thing I have to do in the middle is find somebody to love. I remember my first love, the way it physically affected me like nothing else ever has, how my palms would prickle with sweat and my heart would hammer against my rib cage whenever he walked by. How sweet it was, the way I wanted it and needed it, the way I thought we might be together forever despite the glaring differences in who we were. I became a person I didn’t recognize but also, I became who I always was—soft, vulnerable, tender. I remember my second time falling in love, how the texture was so different than the first. The slowness of it, so unrushed that by the time it began to take shape I was eager, almost hungry for it. The purity that experience exuded; knowing this person loved me exactly as I was even when I felt great disdain for myself.
I remember knowing early on in both cases that I could fall in love with each of these people. It wasn’t love at first sight exactly, but there was an understanding straight away—this person is going to change my life. Something instinctual and older than the sun. Knowing I could fall in love, with all of its risks and rewards, and still walking into the arms of another was a radical act. Loving will always be a radical act, for love requires a total stripping down of the ego. Love is a head on a lap, fingers in hair, the skin on your back stroked tenderly, a tickle of flesh. Love is curiosity. Love is forced, sometimes, for we know it is the single greatest gift we can give or receive, and we want it desperately when we don't have it, and so we go about the world like we are grocery shopping while hungry. Everything looks appetizing and right. We fill our baskets, bring home these new ingredients, unsure of what to do with them, unsure of whether it is their flavors that we craved, or if it was only our hunger that drove us.
There is a quote from Sally Rooney’s most recent novel that I can’t stop thinking about, for it feels it could have been pulled from a journal of mine. It goes:
“I mean, I couldn’t imagine we were going to be happy together. I thought it would be the same as everything else in my life—difficult and sad—because I was a difficult and sad person. But that’s not what I am anymore, if I ever was. And life is more changeable than I thought. I mean life can be miserable for a long time and later be happy.”
Cheers, my dears, and may you be met with love every place you look. In the spirit of love, might I suggest two songs—this one, one of the most romantic songs of all time, and this one, equal parts cheesy and sweet. And if you liked this essay, consider sharing it with someone you love. Thank you for reading. I love you.
Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming
‘What’s The Point of a Risk-Free Life?’ On Starting Again At 50. This novel excerpt reads like a standalone essay. A meditation on the confines of womanhood and motherhood, on freedom, and on what one is to do when they find themselves middle-aged and stuck in the home they’ve made that doesn’t feel like their home at all. One line from this essay, which is actually a line from another George Orwell essay, that I stuck with me; “He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it”
Rachel McAdams Auditioning for The Notebook. In the spirit of today’s essay, I resurfaced this audition video I’ve watched several times. The Notebook still makes me ugly cry every time I watch it, and this video of a young Rachel McAdams auditioning for the role of Allie is impressive on all levels. Allegedly, McAdams beat out both Britney Spears and Reese Witherspoon for the role.
Why Are Men So Bad at Sex? I remember listening to a particularly great standup set a while back in which a comedian got up there and said she recently discovered she liked women. When she started dating women, she realized she didn't know how to sexually pleasure another woman properly, so she Googled it. Then she asked how many men in the audience had ever Googled how to properly please a woman—maybe one or two out of a full show raised their hands. It was a wake-up call moment for me and this article is of the same sentiment. It isn't that men are bad at sex, but that society has made sex very much about serving men and that we're all too timid to communicate what we really want. I love the idea of the traffic light system, sharing a list of things with a sexual partner that turns you on or off, swapping lists, and then exploring.
Perhaps You Should… Support the Texas Equal Access Fund
I’m always in the market for a good t-shirt, especially when it’s for a cause I vehemently care about. I can’t wait to wear this one around town, styled like this. Orders for this shirt close tomorrow.
**Bonus Content** (Not Elf On the Shelf)
You’ve heard of Elf of the Shelf, but what about this?
A Quote From A Book You Should Read:
“You remind me of everything that followed.”
-The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.
Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.”