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August 2, 2013

The Happy Hookup


Photo Credit: JFB/Getty Images

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Marguerite Duras had lovers. Patti Smith had lovers. I had a lover. I started to see a life for myself beyond my ex-boyfriend. At the same time, I started dating men who were more likely to be potential boyfriends—but none of them thrilled me as much as my musician, and I didn't want to give up my fun. I wasn't ready for my next serious relationship, even if I wanted to be.

A few months into the affair, I interviewed another musician, one I'd had a crush on since I was 16. Barely holding onto professional decorum, I flirted shamelessly. Not long after, I called him while in Los Angeles, his hometown. We spent a long, sexy day together at his place. He was soon embarking on tour and took along my red satin underwear, which figured prominently in the dirty e-mails I sent him, still riding the gauzy high from our time together.

As soon as he returned, he called. "What are you wearing?" he asked by way of greeting. "Nothing," I said, catching on quickly. "What's all that noise?"

"I'm at a Lakers game at the staples Center," he said. "It's halftime, and I'm outside smoking a cigarette while my friends are inside." We laughed. He got me off over the phone, then watched the second half. 

Having both men in my life made me feel like I didn't have to adhere to either one's schedule. I was taking what I wanted, filling my nights with all of the talk and sex I could desire. In between trysts with my Boston guitarist, I fielded regular calls from L.A.: What was I writing? What fantasy did I want to enact over the phone? He wanted to know everything. 

Sometimes I wanted more time and attention from my L.A. musician, but I never wanted a commitment. Just like my Boston lover, he didn't have serious-partner potential. But he acted as my mentor in many ways: 11 years older than me, he was a successful musician and businessman who had traveled the world. He encouraged me to figure out what I wanted, and to say no to things I didn't want, making me more self-assured in ways that went far beyond the bedroom. Our affair helped me grow—the opposite of the laziness and inertia of friends with benefits. 

What I really wanted, and what these men gave me, was experience—the self-knowledge that comes with pushing your boundaries by first figuring out where they are, and then testing those assumptions. The affairs stopped and started many times, over many years. When I last saw both men, long after our original interludes, there was a fondness and sparkle between us, along with the sweet, salty ease of old lovers—everything that ever passed between us still there. 

I think all of us want love, and for most of us, a committed relationship is the eventual goal. But not all encounters need to be about romantic love. And not all casual hookups need to lack intimacy. When approached with daring and passion, unsustainability can have its own benefits, too. 

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