Identity is the product of the imagination. We are what we imagine ourselves to be, the main characters in our own fictions. Dreams may push us on towards future possibilities, but for the moment, we are closest to what we think we are. Perhaps our lives are regular ones, the lives of secondary characters in ordinary movies set in ordinary places. Perhaps our own movies are more adventurous, or more romantic. Perhaps we’re the character who always struggles, or the one who blithely succeeds. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’re the protagonists in a thrilling erotic novel, our fearless bodies stripped to work magic upon the world.
But probably we’re not. A confession: my given name isn’t Mr. X. No, I’m a man divided, between X and something else, and although these two characters in my head share many characteristics, they are different characters. Alas, I am not the protagonist in a permanent erotic novel (although Mr. X happily is). And as I, as Mr. X, devise these sex experiments for my wife and other women – known and unknown – it has occurred to me that they have been more successful, perhaps, at uniting themselves into one character. Sex, at least since the rules of religions took hold many centuries ago, has divided us. We are sexual privately, in our bedrooms or behind computer screens. Sex is our secret, and although the secret is thrilling, it splits us in two, or three, or four. And this, I have realized, is the biggest thrill of Mr. X’s dares. They force those who take the challenge to be all of themselves in the world, both conventional and sexual, united in one thrilling moment. This bravery is what excites me so much about these women. It’s what makes them impossibly desirable.
Meanwhile I jot off my dares as Mr. X and mostly live my life as the public Me (he’s charming, that one, I assure you). I rarely take the risk of uniting myself all at once. Yes, my wife and I have adventured in public, such as during our Bar Game, or our trip to Spain, or at dinner with the neighbors, but these are situations I have set up myself and managed towards my expectations. So then it came to Mona’s response to her Pick-up Experiment, which excited me tremendously, and it occurred to me that maybe I should attempt the same experiment…and step fully into the erotic novel, all of me.
When a man says “I want you” to an unknown woman, as Mona’s dare commanded her to say to men, you know he wants you. He may be “flirting” or “joking”, but he can hardly pretend to be just flirting or joking, as a woman might. Or maybe that’s just me, straight-faced even when humor is the biggest part of my game. When we get to “I want you”, even if the conversation is play, there’s no doubt that I want you.
So now we’ve had my hemming and hawing, my butterflies before stepping out onto the stage….
Sometimes after a day’s work I’ll stop by a loud, cheap bar for a beer. It’s the kind of place you can show up alone and run into a few people you know, or at least have a pleasant conversation with the bartender about whatever comes to mind. I sit at the bar and survey the room, usually staying for just one drink. Often there are groups of young women who have just gotten off work too, and they drink fast and smoke lots of cigarettes. I like to watch them, and I like to watch the waitress efficiently going about her business, spinning trays back and forth from behind the bar out to the crowd. So a quick warm-up: she kisses me hello on the cheek, I say “I want you”, and she laughs. We’re “old” friends. She knows I probably mean it, but that doesn’t matter one way or another. Although I haven’t shut myself off from flirtations as much as other friends who’ve been married a while, I realize three things: 1) It’s extraordinarily difficult to say “I want you” in a bar; 2) It also seems disconcertingly easy once it’s done; and 3) My law-of-numbers pep talk to Mona was not just fantasy: say “I want you” enough times in an evening and you will get laid.
Also, I had no idea what I would do if I stuck around long enough for that opportunity to present itself. I don’t fear guilt, but I do fear boredom, and your average seduction does not proceed with the edited elegance of an erotic novel.
Down the bar beyond an empty stool was a young woman sitting alone, tapping rapid-fire messages into a telephone with her astonishing lips pursed in frustration. Text-barrage complete, she sucked down half a beer and noticed me watching her. Her hair was dark and frizzy, standing out all over her head, and she wore a gorgeously avant-garde dress, unconsciously, as if dresses didn’t matter in the slightest. “Waiting for my friends,” she said with an ease that made me smile. We got to talking. Yes she lived in town, yes, so did I. She was an art student, she painted a bit. This is where seduction goes wrong. You get stuck in résumés. I liked her dress, she liked my jacket. I liked her lips. “So what?” she said. I liked that. She looked down at her phone. Her friends were walking in, four of them chattering loud enough to turn heads. I looked at my beer for a moment, and then, as if I’d just discovered something surprising there, I looked up at her and said, “I want you.” As if dumbfounded myself, but then what can you do?
She grinned, understanding the game, I imagined. But then she was enveloped by her friends, and I only looked over occasionally. In that separation I could see her more clearly, and she really was beautiful, after all. Overwhelming lust came only then. I wanted her, badly. Her body looked slim and pliant and capable of fearless bedroom confrontations. When she met my eye, she still smiled. Now it was hardly a sex experiment. I had made a mysterious connection, which happens on some rare occasions, and, yes, I wanted her.
Then you start making calculations. Take her home and present her to my wife? Scamper off to some hotel and divide yourself even more? I wasn’t opposed to any of these solutions, I didn’t think, but she was enmeshed with her friends now, and I had no interest in pushing what had only been a game, an experiment, a dare. I finished my beer, paid up at the bar. I stood and gave her a little nod, which got only another of those pulpy smiles in return.
And then I walked out, having slightly failed at the dare in my mind, at least by Mona’s high standards, but having succeeded in some other way that I found it difficult to articulate. Lost in these thoughts, I stepped out onto the sidewalk and was walking over to my bike when I heard feet pattering behind me and turned, almost in alarm. Her face was right at mine, beaming, and then she planted a fat and tender kiss on my lips. She tasted of lip gloss and cigarettes. Then she was turning around and scampering back into the bar as if late for another appointment. That was all.
So not exactly an erotic novel. More like a romance novel, maybe. And not exactly a ragingly successful self-dare (though I imagine if I had a Mrs. X, I would perpetually be disregarding her instructions). But I will say this: for a moment there I was a man completely united.
Need to catch up? Read the Sex Experiment from the beginning: Table of Contents