Vicki Marie’s Sexy Summer Reading Series: One Chapter A Day
THE BACHELOR CHAPTERS: A THINKING WOMAN’S ROMANCE
A neighborhood bar with the smarts to serve good food can provide a living room and a family life for the female bachelor. Conveniently located between my home and everything else, I found my hospitality family at the Matador in West Seattle. Both hip and down home, the Matador had nailed a formula for success, and had become West Seattle’s destination venue, attracting customers throughout the city into the geographic dead-end of the Alki Peninsula.
First and foremost, it was a neighborhood joint, and I checked in with the young barmen at least three or four nights a week. Every bartender knew my name, my drink, and the fact that I ate flour tortillas with my roasted chicken soup. I knew what shifts they worked, where they grew up, and the goals that lay ahead once they got out of the business. At the Matador, the bartender was also the boss, empowered to grant favor with a heavy-handed pour. Gratitude for the stiff drinks was expressed by the size of my tip, which would be reciprocated by another full pour, in that timeless dance between patron and server.
I could also count on friendly company at the bar with other customers, whether light-hearted chatter or deeper conversation. These social moments were always with men, a reflection of the gender divide in bar etiquette. Solitary men choose the bar, while a woman alone opts for table service. Unlike most solo sisters, I invited the company of strangers, always on the make for a few laughs, some intelligent conversation, and the simple pleasure of not eating alone. The Matador was my chill spot, and not my playground. While I did eventually meet a few special men at my favorite bar in the city, it wasn’t the stage to practice my bachelor ways. Sure, I kept my eyes open, but the simple fact was that I wasn’t attracted to most men. My targets for heterosexual infiltration were simple but not common; I was on the lookout for athletic builds with above average intelligence. The majority of men could be my bar buddies, but never my lovers.
Between 2004 and the great economic crash of 2008, I clocked in hundreds of evenings at the Matador, and passed the time with as many strangers. Often enough, a friendly comment could lead to a compelling conversation, fueled by a few drinks. I liked talking to men about the similarities and differences in the lives we were living, and the things that mattered to us: business, sports, politics, relationships, and sex.
In the bar, I was open about my bachelor experiment, which usually put sex at the center of the conversation. Which is how I began to track another trait common in the male species: the confession. I learned that men who are cheaters can’t wait to give up the details to a stranger they’ve concluded to be, “just like them.” Even though I wasn’t. Unlike them, I was a bachelor, and a liar no more; fidelity wasn’t even an option. “I’ve never told anyone this,” the confession would begin, followed by a flurry of details about their single or multiple infidelities behind the backs of wives, girlfriends, or fiancées. I heard about one-night stands, and about affairs that spanned years. I heard the drama about how they had been caught, and the lies about cutting it off. I was told how they’d ended the affair before being discovered, and then lived in constant fear of a bitter mistress and blackmail. I also heard the reasons why an adult man justified cheating and lying. Cheaters often described marriage as a prison; they were serving a life sentence with no chance for release. They were victims, they complained, and the affair was the covert push back at the injustice of their lockup.
I was wide-eyed at the arrogance of the male cheater, with his delusion of integrity, and his defense of the right to cheat. There was no doubt; I was clearly the first person they’d ever told. Left to themselves, they’d mastered the logic of idiots. There were four famous excuses I heard again and again: I love my wife and my family, and the other woman means nothing to me; I love my wife and my family, but she won’t have sex with me; I love my wife and my family, but I don’t want to have sex with her; and my favorite, for its brutal honesty: I love my family and my money, and my wife would ruin me. Leave it to the logic of men, and the blindness of the male ego, that love and commitment to family becomes the reason to cheat. They had managed to elevate betrayal to a marriage-saving strategy.
Men hold no patent on infidelity, of course. I could weigh in with my own experience, because I had also cheated on the people I loved. I too created excuses, and practiced betrayal with self-delusion. But unlike many of these men, I was never righteous about my adultery. Eventually, I even retired my excuses and accepted the facts of my trespass: cheating is simply unfair and cruel—and so is lying.
Still, I have empathy and tolerance for individuals, and the motivations that lead to convert relationships. As human beings, we are tremendously flawed, barely more than animals, functioning within elaborate social structures, and adapting to cultural mores. There is a reason so many religions teach the practice of forgiveness. We need it.
Even though I’m low-key on my judgments, I always discourage betrayal. From a selfish perspective, lying and cheating is bloody hard work. It will mess up your karma, scar your psyche, and it’s more detrimental to live with than the consequences of truth telling. It’s also simply wrong. Besides being unfair and cruel, it’s presumptuous. Who gave the cheater clearance to defraud on a commitment?
By the time Jon and I decided to be an exclusive couple, I had already suffered the guilt and the longing that comes from cheating one too many times. Without a shred of ambivalence, I was determined never to put myself, or my beloved, through that again. I had cheated on Beth when I’d had sex with Jon at the end of our partnership, and I had lied to her when she accused me of it several months after we split-up. But that digression was insignificant compared to the years of deceit I hid from the woman that I really had loved with my whole heart during the time when our relationship had been solid.
Beth and I had been together four years when Toni came back into my life. For me, an affair was the furthest thing from my mind. At that moment, I was in love with Beth and happy with the life we had built together in Seattle. While we were on friendly terms, I hadn’t seen Toni in years, and we’d talked only a handful of times after I’d left Portland. Our romance was a closed chapter, and I’d long ago moved on to better stories.
Then one day, she invited me to take a train trip with her. Just for a ride, in a sleeper car, for a long weekend, to Montana and back. “I’ve always wanted to do it,” she said, explaining the unusual plan, “watching the scenery blow by, sipping champagne and telling stories, listening to music. You’d be the most fun to do it with.” What the hell, I thought—it sounded like a backdrop for adventure, so I brought it up with Beth, and told her I wanted to go.
“Why isn’t she going with her girlfriend?” Beth wanted to know.
“Jenna doesn’t want to go,” I repeated what I’d been told. “She can’t imagine anything more boring.”
Toni thought of everything, and she turned that tiny sleeping car into a private nightclub. She set up a bar in the small sink, lit candles on the table, and found a spot for the boom box and CD library in the upper bunk. After a bottle of champagne, and reminiscing about our romantic past, I let Toni Rey kiss me in the sleeper car, three hours into the trip. I was more curious than turned on, and when it was over, I felt stupid for wondering. With her lips on mine, I thought only of Beth: of how much I loved her, of how lucky I was to have her, of how we had our whole lives ahead of us. I was flattered that Toni wanted me in that way—I still thought she was the sexiest woman I knew—but my passion had expired. I was over her. Toni left the car to find ice, and I knew I had to fess up when she came back.
Instead, I said nothing, and let myself be swept away by the scene. First came the music: Smokey Robinson, Rickie Lee Jones, and the whole damn Pirates album. With that came the dancing, and the way we could move together. That’s when she had me, when the past became the present: as if it had been only yesterday that we had made that magic together, not seven long years ago. It was a potent and uninhibited reunion. I didn’t know how much I’d missed her, how she could still make me feel like no one else ever could. There was no denying our connection was absolute; it played out like destiny. But I wanted Beth. There was no way Toni and I would ever be together.
Toni and I saw each other a handful of times after that over the span of several years. It was always the same: intoxicating anticipation, then the incomparable rush of sexual energy that made me feel more alive than anything else. The suffering that followed was the same as well; the guilt was horrendous, and the longing was torture.
I justified my cheating, telling myself that I would never leave Beth, because she was the one I loved, and she was the woman I wanted to spend my life with. Because that was true, I rationalized that my connection with Toni couldn’t hurt our relationship. I never thought my affair with Toni was right, but I lied to myself that it wasn’t wrong. It was just different. Such is the delusion that made me a liar and a cheater for years. Beth trusted me. She never seemed suspicious of my sporadic weekends with Toni, and I was convinced that she was clueless about my betrayal. I’m glad I never got caught, and that she never had to suffer because of my selfishness. When the affair ended, my heart bled over Toni Rey once again. For those keeping score, the tally was three passionate rounds, and three shredded hearts in that contest of love.
As a reformed cheater with a compassionate ear, my barstool advice was always kind, but firm: I understand why you did it. And why you don’t want to stop. But this is your life, and that affair is a message; it’s your wake-up call. You can choose to listen or not, but don’t kid yourself if you decide to turn a blind eye. Because you’re not just a liar and a cheat: you’re a coward too.
TOMORROW: Chapter 22
Copyright Vicki Marie Stolsen, 2014, Forever Forty-Four Publications, Publicity Rare Bird Lit, Tyson Cornell, Tyson@rarebirdlit.com, Distribution by Ingram, Available online and in bookstores in paperback, eBook, and audio format.