The sexual instinct is a social instinct. We partner, we become “a couple”, and often it’s wonderful, but we guard ourselves, and even casual conversation becomes more limited. Coupled, talk gets smaller. We no longer seduce.
Seduction at bottom is a drive to strip away our public personas and get closer to the heart of others and ourselves. Naked in bed we are more true to our natures. Abandoning seduction we draw the map of our interior geographies too small.
My wife and I were at a New Year’s party sizing up candidates for a midnight kiss. It was a game we were playing, and the excitement came as much from playing the game together as from the promise of strange lips. I knew she would pull it off, and my confidence in her sexual efficiency excited me tremendously. The bigger question was whether I would be able to seduce a stranger and lock lips at midnight. I’m rarely one with a quick line. I prefer the slow simmer, and then a silent, passionate embrace at the last possible instant, when words can go no further and sex is the only choice. So it was a challenge, this game we were playing, but the challenge excited me too.
Recently I was talking with friends over beers — guy talk, guys-in-couples-still-dreaming-of-seductions talk. What was the one key to seducing a woman? Humor? Confidence? Alcohol? We had different ideas. My best answer – and I’ll stick to it – was that it was not one’s own confidence, but the woman’s, and the game is to give her that confidence: in herself (that she is desirable and capable of blowing your mind with just a toss of her hair), and in you (that you would never abuse the trust she’ll put in you by stripping).
New Year’s again: the party was in a loft in Soho — New York City — and I was in a rather large guest bedroom talking to the hostess. She’d taken me in there to show me a painting – honestly nothing more — and there were a few people milling about. Art excited this woman, and she had been eagerly (and increasingly confidently) discussing it for a while. I got the feeling that it was a relief for her to be released, however briefly, from the business of being a hostess – from her “coupleness”. (Also, I thought of a scene from The Known Experiment here and asked myself why I find looking at art so erotic. That will have to be a question for another post.) The woman was in her mid-thirties and in astonishingly good shape, in the way that rich, smart Manhattan women who collect art tend to be. She was thin and rather tall, and she was wearing a black dress cut halfway up her thigh and fishnet stockings whose diamonds were so large I could have slipped my fist through them. If she’d been curvier, she would have been pornographic, but she was so angular that the clothes didn’t particularly register as sexy. She just looked as stylish as next month’s fashion magazine. Except for one little detail that had me feeling a developing hard-on even as we stood there casually talking: she had kicked off her shoes because they’d been “killing her” and she kept swaying back and forth (seductively?) as she wriggled her fishnetted feet into the carpet. Also this: her lips were full and quick to smile (I was being “clever”, and she liked that I was being “clever”: “Aren’t you clever,” she had said with a coy smile and some wriggling). Now: along with the rest of humankind, I have a pronounced lip fetish, but was I developing a new and unexpected foot fetish? Or was it just my suspicion that a woman who kicks off her expensive shoes at her own party is more likely to be a kick in bed?
Reader, you get the picture: I wanted her clothes off, but I’d happily settle for a midnight kiss. Settle? Hell, a midnight kiss would be bliss. It was her house, however, and although her husband was off somewhere else, one tends to maintain a minimum of control at one’s own party. We were liking each other, but as midnight approached, I assumed she would have logistics on the mind. I was stumped, and I had about four minutes left.
What’s that phrase used by charities? Pass It On? Well charity starts at home (is that a phrase?), and as I stood there talking about art with this woman (pornography now, no less, although academically), I thought of my wife out charming someone else, and I thought of her clever ruse of daring me to find the midnight kiss that Mr. X had dared her to find, and then I knew I had my line. It wouldn’t win any style points, but given the midnight hour, it was probably my best shot. So I passed on the dare.
Me (in a dramatic soulmate-to-soulmate tone): Can I talk to you?
Her (uncertainly (understandably, since we are, in fact, talking)): Of course.
Me (as if about to confess heroin addiction): I’m in a real fix.
Her (big eyes over a sip of wine): What’s going on?
Me (shifting into a lopsided grin, though still distraught, vulnerable): My wife and I had a dare tonight. We’re not lunatics, it’s just for a kick.
Her (beginning to perform “concern” even better than I’m performing “distraught”): Mmm-hmm…?
Me (regretfully, lamentably – honestly quite embarrassed about it all): I have to kiss the most kissable woman in the room at midnight.
Her (mutual performances in full swing, both of us loving it): You poor man.
Me: It’s hard. I mean…not that (“blushing”). It’s difficult. Let’s put it that way.
Her (taking my hand in a show of support – this could be a funeral): Kissable, huh?
Me (realizing for the first time that she’s as tipsy as I am): Yeah. Full lips, I guess. Artistic lips. Kissable.
She (drawing closer, playing with my hand, glancing around the room): It’s just once a year.
Me (T-minus 40 seconds here): So true. Well put. And it would just take a second.
Her: I imagine.
Me: Two, three, it’s up to the kissable woman who’s to be kissed.
Her (closer): Yes, she’d have to know what she was getting into.
Me: I’d understand completely. Here’s a crazy idea: maybe we could get everybody else to count off the seconds so we keep this strictly scientific.
She (curtly (mock curtly?)): Oh. We? I didn’t realize…the we.
Me (T-minus 10, 9, crowd counting): Counting…. Ideally we’d have three, four seconds to work w-
And then those full lips were at mine, and the buildup had made us hungry (even if it was just fun, and we knew that), and her tongue slipped quickly into my mouth, and my hand was at the back of her neck, pushing up over the delicate bones beneath her hair and pulling her closer. I felt her body just at the edge of mine, but no closer. Still, the kiss was a passionate one, one of those that comes only at the end of words, and it lasted precisely six seconds. She’d grabbed me at six, and we broke off into smiles at midnight, and it is the only kiss in my life about which I have any idea of how long it took.
“Thanks,” I said with a friendly smile, the performance over.
“Thank you,” she said just as warmly, and that was it. She waltzed off in her bare feet to see if anyone needed anything, and I didn’t see her again until we left at the end of the night. It was a game we’d played, that was all. It was no more real than playing at Cowboys and Indians, but it mattered just as much.
Somebody handed me a glass of champagne. I couldn’t spot my wife anywhere. I hoped she was soaring, and I couldn’t wait to pass it on. I couldn’t wait to kiss her.
Need to catch up? Read the Sex Experiment from the beginning: Table of Contents