I’m lying in bed with my wife and she asks me about this woman I once hooked up with at a party in high school.

Why this is, I’m not entirely sure.

She’s heard of this woman before, her flaming red hair, and the way the ringlets cascaded down her neck.

Her athletic prowess on the soccer field and the insane calf muscles etched from stone.

Her ridiculously cool floppy-haired brother and the sweet convertible they shared.

My wife knows that this woman dated a scary Division One football player who showed up at the high school parties in our small town, only to terrorize everyone present.

She also knows this woman was deemed unapproachable in the way high school teen movie goddesses are, wrapped in an aura akin to a force field, where one can look, but not hope for more than a casual conversation.

And my wife definitely knows that I wanted to be involved with this woman anyway, that I longed for her in the way teenage boys do, and that I didn’t care whether she was unapproachable or not.

I have told her about the party I invited the flaming red-haired woman to, how the woman was funny and kind, that we had a great time, how at some point we found a room and that I was sure we were going to have sex until the host’s girlfriend stormed in and kicked us out.

My wife knows all of this, or I think she does, I’ve repeated the story so many times in my own head now, rethinking what went wrong, and right, just how close I was, but then was not, that I probably don’t really know which version my wife actually knows.

I do know, that my wife has never asked me any questions about that night, or at least not the one she asks tonight.

“How do you know?” my wife says smiling.

“How do I know what?” I reply.

“That you were going to sleep with her?”

“It was a feeling.”

“But how do you know?”

 

It has been several years since we had this conversation and I realize only now that my wife wasn’t interested in the story because it’s funny, or points to my overconfidence, though it may be those things too. She also wasn’t interested in the story because she wanted to somehow visualize a version of me that existed right before we actually met.

Or maybe she did.

But even if these things are true, there was another truth as well: Sex was in the air that night, festering, looming, waiting for the chance to overwhelm the talk of bills and children, work and worries, and what I know now, is that any additional talk about the idea of how sex might have been happening somewhere, anywhere, and at any time, held the possibility of enhancing whatever was already going on and seemingly sure to happen.

What I wanted to say to my wife, is that I knew this woman and I were going to sleep together in the same way I knew that my wife and I were going to that night, because I was sure we were. Because we just know when we are and when it’s mutual, because some kind of understanding has been formed through a combination of body language, eye contact, word choice, kismet, smiles, hems and haws.

But I didn’t say any of that, because I was scared that the truth as I thought I knew it might be wrong on that night, that my belief in what was sure to happen with the flaming red-haired woman was never true. That my wife would somehow know this and her rejection of that truth might not only derail what I was so sure was to happen between my wife and I that night, but leave me questioning whether I knew anything at all.

And so instead, I focused on the story itself and how funny it all seemed to me now.

What I didn’t see, is that I had moved from something potentially mutual to something self-absorbed.

That my insecurities were forcing me to not trust my instincts or the person I was with.

I also didn’t see that things could go awry for these reasons alone.

 

As I ignored the real point of my wife’s question, she lost interest in the story, but I went on anyway and the sex vibe that I was so sure permeated the air dissipated as well, which was unfortunate since I had already done the dishes, put the kids to bed and sat through Shameless.

 

All of which is to say, that sometimes you never quite know anything about the person you’re with, or at least what to say or how.

You fail to trust to them with your feelings, and most of the time, those relationships are not destined for the long haul, even if the sex at times is not so bad for all those involved.

Sometimes however, you are able to forge a relationship where you can talk about sex, not always, or all of it, but enough to know what’s fun, healthy, and feels good and right.

You also remember that there are two of you in the room, and that in the conversations you are ultimately going to have about sex, you trust what you’ve built to weather those times when you suddenly don’t trust yourself.

And these relationships have a chance to be something good.

Still, this is something one has to learn, and nurture, and more importantly, stay focused on over time, because we never trust everything about ourselves, and we don’t always get it right.

 

Which is also to say, that this one time, my wife asked me a question about someone I thought I was going to sleep with because she wanted to know how I knew, that there was something exciting about that to her, and that instead of answering the question, I chose to tell her all of the details instead.

I know now that was not the way to handle it.

I also know that I don’t plan to make that mistake again.

Ben Tanzer

Ben Tanzer

Ben Tanzer is the author of the forthcoming book Be Cool — a memoir (sort of), among others. He also oversees the lifestyle empire This Blog Will Change Your Life (changeyourlifethiswill.com) and frequently speaks on the topics of messaging, framing, social media, blogging, fiction, essay writing, and independent publishing.
Ben Tanzer

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