Monday, November 14, 2011


The Magic Trick

One day I overstayed a birthday visit to Paris by about 10 years. That tenth spring found me in that awkward phase we 30-somethings often go through, called “still between boyfriends.” This phase had gone on for so long that I didn’t even want a boyfriend anymore. In fact, ever since noticing a beautifully wrinkled and mysteriously sensual older French woman at a friend’s party, and, having inquired if she was the wife of the frizzy-haired, balding older man with the huge, horn-rimmed glasses next to her, and being informed that, “Nooo, she’s his mistress. They’ve been lovers for many years,” I’d decided that loverhood was what I aspired to.

The lover I’d set my sights on was a Swiss-German, philosophy PhD guy with a flurry of blond, Raphaelite hair and delicate features, who wore leather Three Musketeer boots and an old-fashioned looking waistcoat — a little short, but in Paris, everyone was shorter than me — who had talked to me at length at a party attended by fellow “intellos” (all PhD’s or PhD’s in training, professors, jazz musicians, historians, and philosophers. A cast so stereotypical that it was a wonder we weren’t all wearing black turtlenecks). My prospect had intrigued us all (well, mostly me) with his very un-intellectual and kitschy ability to wave his hands around and then make a little four-inch orange square of silk disappear into thin air, then pull it back out of his fist afterwards — sleeves rolled up and everything! He’d repeated this trick upon my many requests for an encore at the party, out in the street walking to the bar, and again at the bar. What more could a girl want from a potential lover than to be continually enthralled?

So a few days later I nonchalantly asked a mutual friend, also Swiss-German:

- “Hey, uh, Chrissi…. Uh… what’s your friend’s name? You know, with the hair, and the magic trick?”

- “Oh, Florian? You like him? He liked you a LOT,” Christian purred warmly, nodding his head in agreement with his own assessment, and in anticipation of my future pleasure thanks to his imminent intervention.

- “Okay,” I pressed on, “so, is he…”

- “Oh, he’s married,” Christian said, “but he’s awailable.”

Married but “awailable”? Only in Europe. Mind you, it’s totally possible to be someone’s “mistress” without either party being married. It’s a lifestyle, not a technical thing. Personally, and because I’m a practical girl, I’d been hoping to find an unmarried lover.

- “Oh, c’mon, Chrissi, you know I don’t date married men,” I groaned, disappointed and beginning to feel annoyed.

- “Oh, but it’s alriiiight. He has an understanding with his wife. Dey are in a free relationship. It’s totally alright. I promise you. I haf seen his other relationships. It’s always okay. His wife iss very special.”

And so, the first morning we woke up together on the futon thrown on the floor of my garret, Florian propped himself up on his elbow to look at me with my morning hair, puffy face, and raccoon eyes (from mascara I hadn’t washed off the night before) and burst out: “Sacristi! You’re even more beautiful in the morning!” (A blatant lie.) Yes, the perfect lover. He showed me, by example, the difference between having a boyfriend and having a lover. For example, he didn’t call me every day, but whenever he arrived at my place, he’d go straight to my bathroom without fail and shave, so that he wouldn’t rough my face up with his stubble. A lover, European style, knows you’re doing him a favor, and not the other way around. Really. Just ask any woman in Paris who has a lover. It’s a wonderful thing. Much better than — or at least a break from the drudgery of — the typical noncommittal boyfriend or, God forbid, bored husband. In Paris, the difference between a boyfriend and a lover is the difference between full-time employment and the five weeks of vacation it has earned you.

We went to all the best cheap places to eat, mostly in the Arab neighborhoods, where all the restaurant/cafeteria owners knew and adored him and promised me all the spicy chick peas, lentils and mint tea my heart desired if I ever came back with or without him. He didn’t mind that I didn’t have fancy clothes and high heels to dress up in him, unlike the rich, corporate-type guy (recommended by a well-meaning friend) who I’d dated to test my ability to sell my soul for expensive dinners.

(When I’d told Mr. Corporate that I couldn’t afford to dress for the places he was taking me to anymore, I’d been being misguidedly kind — he was boring [rich men often are], and the charm of those chic restaurants had long worn off because the food gave me gas, and the elite crowd he was paying to be a part of was making me, a size 4 at 5’8”, feel fat. What I’d wanted was for him to start going to my haunts in Chinatown, where I could reclaim my proletariat roots and prevent any further warping of my physical self-image. But before I could propose as much, he’d glibly offered to buy me new clothes. Having a tall, skinny, exotic-looking woman on your arm as you enter expensive restaurants is some kind of healing salve applied to the excoriated self-esteems of hardworking but hollowed businessmen, and it just doesn’t work in cheap restaurants or in cheap clothing.)

Florian and I were equals, financially. And we may not have been equals intellectually, but he acted on the presumption that we were, and we laughed, we talked, we got along like a house on fire. He thought I was smart, I thought he was smart. That was a big change from my Lacanian psychoanalyst/professor of semantics boyfriend of five years previous, whose library I’d raided before taking a powder, on the premise that if I was as dumb as he seemed to think I was, I needed those books more than he did. I took a gleeful pleasure using Mr. Genius’ seduction techniques on Florian, and in seeing them work like magic. I always say: Leave someone with the best they have to offer you, and throw the rest away.

One night, Florian and I came down with a case of food poisoning from some tepid raita we’d eaten at some all-night hole in the wall and, amazingly, celebrated newly revealed feelings of solidarity the next morning as we fondly reminisced over how we took turns listening to each other vomit with abandon in my tiny garret’s toilet. We cosseted each other back to health that morning at the café around the corner, slowly reading the paper, delicately sipping our cafés au lait in the sunny window as if it were our personal solarium.

At the apex of our romance, though, I began to conceive of his return to Switzerland as the end to all this tendresse, and felt sadness creeping like a black mold into all our pleasures. Finally, one morning we woke up, and I found myself in a deep funk. Maybe it was PMS, or maybe it was the fact I was dating a married man.

- “When are you going back?” I asked, with that only too familiar child-about-to-be-abandoned feeling, even though I’d known all along that he was only in Paris for a few months to teach a class.

- “You know that. I leave in two months.” (Pronouncing it “months-zhe,” as they all do.) This turned out to be my cue to look at him, and melt into tears.

- “Why are you weeping? Is it because I can’t give myself to you, because I am committed with someone else?” he asked, as he cradled me in his arms gently, which was exactly the opposite of what I’d learned to expect from most men faced with a woman knee-jerking the imminently abandoned little girl role. In fact, none had ever stayed in the room with me long enough to shake hands and say “nice knowing you.” Most reacted as if I’d suddenly started screaming like a monkey and throwing feces at them, and hightailed as quickly and far away from me as possible, forever more avoiding me at parties and crossing streets when necessary.

In my mind I heard myself say, petulantly: “No, I’m not an idiot, I knew what I was getting into, didn’t I?” Which was when I realized that as worldly and sophisticated as I thought I could be, thatthing had happened again. That thing where I’m left behind. Maybe it was the expatriate way of life, but every man I’d ever gone out with since arriving in Europe had had some kind of previous engagement or ordained future that didn’t include me, whether it was a four-year study in another country, a girlfriend in Italy that was only mentioned after a few months, or simply the usual innate and incorrigible desire to flee relationships for any reason at all. According to the script, you’re supposed to just chalk it up to romantic experience, then go home and settle down with the leading man out of the final scene of Sabrina or (if you were a different sort of girl) Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or else accidentally kill yourself alone in a garret in The House of Mirth after loitering too long in the chapters of The Dud Avocado.

- “Why don’t I ever have anyone for me?”, I sniffled, holding panic at bay by keeping my emotions and thoughts elementary, “Someone just for me?”

He held me and stroked my hair, assured me I would have someone, someday — probably a better man, he hypothesized encouragingly, even, than him. He said he just wanted to make me happy while he was here. And while he comforted me, the truth began to dawn on me. This is a nice man. It’s nice to be comforted by a nice man. And that calmed me down to the point where, as he stroked my hair, I asked myself, did I love this guy? Honestly? Tell the truth. No, I didn’t. I liked him, but did I really want to keep him forever? God, no, I told myself, look at him! He’s 35 years old and dresses like one of the Three Musketeers! He has long fingernails, which he likes to put varnish on. These were little quirks I’d never asked about or thought to object to, reasoning that he wasn’t mine, so let him do whatever he wants, right? Nobody’s going to think I’m dressing him, after all. I’m not his wife! And then there was the unavoidable fact that, like most European men, he had what I’ve always described in my mind as a “penis in a soggy, flesh-colored tennis sock.”

(I know that sounds very superficial of me, but when you’re not in love, little things mean a lot.)

As the hair follicles on the top of my head began to feel sore from all that compassionate hair-stroking, I realized that Florian was wonderful in many ways, but he was also a lot of things I’d never desired in a man.  Maybe there was a good reason he had an “understanding” with his wife. Maybe she could only stand him in small doses, herself. All the things I find charming about him now, I told myself, are things I might want to kill him for someday if he was mine forever. Or even just mine beyond April.

The more I thought about it, the less dire was the thought that in two months I’d be putting him on a train back to Switzerland, returning him in one piece, happy and well-loved, to his understanding wife. I hadn’t suddenly lost my interest and desire for him. I’d simply realized there was no need to overindulge. A four-month romantic interlude was pleasant — perfect, even. Five minutes more than that might lead to despair.

And so I stopped crying after what I thought looked like a polite amount of time, snuggled gratefully, heaved a reassured-sounding sigh, and proposed we go out and have breakfast, which we did, soon giggling again, affectionate, relieved — the both of us, perhaps — that I no longer showed signs of wanting to keep him beyond his scheduled stay or intent.  We had our two more months of fun and loving, during which he never stopped treating me like a queen. He was always precisely on time (ah, the Swiss!) and polite, never in a bad mood. I always felt like the high point of his day. (He would, in fact, tell me that I was the high point of his day.) All this was what I learned to expect from my next lover, or from any man who wanted to be in my life for the pleasure of my company.

The day he took the train home to Switzerland, it was springtime and I was wearing my prettiest thrift store flowered dress and retro forties pumps to accompany him to the Gare de Lyon. We were early, so we drifted into the famous Train Bleu café for the tea and romantic first aid: After anticipating this moment for two months, my sudden impatience to put him on his train and get it over with disconcerted me, and I found it hard to talk as we sat opposite each other looking French-existential in our leather armchairs, avoiding each other’s gaze, each of us stirring our tea. Was I afraid the slightest softening of my heart would make me regress to that played-out abandoned little girl persona again? Had I turned hard and cynical? Or was I just impatient to enjoy solitude for a while? I wasn’t sure, at first.

As he paid our bill, I looked at him once more and told myself: This man has shown me a good time. A really good time. But I was sick of him by now. Yes, it’s true! I was! I realized it right there and then. And I was a little bit proud of it.  It made me feel so chipper that I patted him on the butt and smiled as he climbed the metal staircase into the train.

Standing on the train platform, looking up at him giddily, I hoped I didn’t look too happy that he was going. I was suddenly determined to give him as tender and beautiful a memory of our goodbyes as he deserved. We hugged and kissed and held hands again until the conductor signaled the “all aboard” and the train commenced its preparatory puffing and hissing. This was it. I was going to watch him recede into the distance. He was not going to grab me and pull me into the train the way Gary Cooper grabbed Audrey Hepburn in the final scene of Love in the Afternoon,and I was okay with that. I even thought, in a mix of hilarity and panic, “What if the train breaks down and can’t leave!” But the train began to move, and as it did, I was laughing as my lover pulled from his sleeve the little square of orange silk and passed it to my outstretched hand with a joyful flourish, then disappeared.

Previously: The Psychic.

Carolita Johnson's cartoons appear in The New Yorker and at Oscarinaland.

124 Comments / Post A Comment


Perfect, beautiful, thank you.


@martinipie also, please tell me how one overstays a birthday visit? Interested parties would like to know.


@martinipie I may have a passing interest in this inquiry as well.



@martinipie Yes. How does this work? I am CRAVING a Parisian sojourn that should really, really become a Parisian lifestyle.


@martinipie haha! well, I lived in London at the time and was miserable, so I moved to Paris on my birthday! And then I stayed.


@martinipie Indeed, I would like to join the club, as it were.

Roaring Girl

@carolita I need a detailed road map for ending up in London, somehow finding it miserable, and then moving to Paris on a whim. On a budget, although I suspect that might be a deal breaker.


@Roaring Girl move to London on a one-way ticket from NYC at age 22, live for six months on the 2K you brought with you, then start eating corn flakes for lunch, dinner, and breakfast for a few months. Get some modeling work by a miracle, don't get paid for ages till you're bitter towards your agency, then get a few modeling jobs in Paris, love it there, and, once you finally get paid for your London work, don't come back to London after your next job in Paris. Stay with some crazy people in a loft for a couple of weeks, get a terrible boyfriend for another few weeks, house-sit for people who barely know you but think you're cool. Get lucrative runway work in Tokyo, come back after a month with 15K in a sock -- on which you'll survive for a year -- in the middle of the night and realize you have no place to live, and no friends but the Louvre Museum, stay in a fleabag hotel till you get put up in a "model apartment." Model till nobody wants you anymore, then find loopholes in the university system that coincide with a flukey living situation, take advantage, get free education for five years while living in garrets next door to crazy retired cleaning ladies and other students, shower in the municipal baths along with the homeless on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for a few years till you can afford a garret with a bathtub in the middle of it. Etc. etc. It takes patience, sneakiness, a lot of research, and plain old bullheadedness.


This is a wonder. Even the title is so clever!

Four Horsemeals of the Eggporkalypse

Lovely piece. (Clearly I need to go back to Paris and get in on this lover business.)




Please keep writing and never stop.




This really made me miss my French ex-boyfriend. :(


@timesnewroman the idea is to miss them fondly, not ruefully. That's how the French do it. It's like drinking a fine wine with a nice, smelly cheese.

raised amongst catalogs

@timesnewroman Mine once told me, smilingly, how "stupeed" women were -- especially American women -- and I don't miss him a bit!


@vanillawaif Mine once told me "Ze only good cat eez a dead cat!" and yet I still hung around for a few months. We don't talk now.

raised amongst catalogs

@beeline96 I almost forgot the best story about mine, which I will now share with you. He was driving us to dinner and listening to a local jazz station. The music apparently really spoke to him, because he turned the volume WAY UP, slapped the steering wheel twice with both hands and sputtered, "Ever since I am in America I just...feel...JAZZZZZZ!"


@timesnewroman Stupeed women


@vanillawaif That is the cutest thing I have ever cringed at.


@beeline96 I know. WHY DO THEY HATE CATS?

J Walter Weatherman

Ah, the Swiss. Le sigh.


Je l'adore.


@applestoapples: Moi aussi! C'est formidable...


Fantastic piece.

This was wonderful, it made me feel oddly hopeful.


@saraphonic that was the idea. :) There's hope.


As someone with a lover-arrangement in Paris at the moment, this was timely and informative. Thank you, Hairpin, for always being there for me, even when I don't expect it. Kind of like a French lover, actually.

social theory

lovely. thanks for turning my day around!


That's it, I'm moving to Europe.


In the immortal words of Bonnie Raitt - which you have admirably built on here, Carolita - "One part be my lover, one part go away."


@melis Brilliant quote! Thank you!

Patrick M

It turns out I've been waiting my whole life for a throwaway reference to The Dud Avocado.


@Patrick M

...then go home and settle down with the leading man out of the final scene of Sabrina or (if you were a different sort of girl) Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or else accidentally kill yourself alone in a garret in The House of Mirth after loitering too long in the chapters of The Dud Avocado.

Only gaw-giss. Carolita, if you wrote a memoir or a novel, I'd be first in line at the bookshop.




Thank you all you wonderful commenters! I'm off to my day job, and I know I've raised an expectation of responding to comments, so I just want you to know, I'm just out earning the rent, not AWOL.


*sigh* I love this! And... bear with me here... but I love it in this selfish way, that it reminds me of myself and living in Europe and being overly romantic and dating very eccentric men just for the novelty of it and spending years and years pondering the concept of "lovers" and being delighted to find it in various guises. Or more concisely, something that I think I've commented on these pieces before, it's the living of life as a set of adventures and really quirky stories.


As someone who's lived in several European countries, including Paris (edit IN France, i know i know) and have banged a fair amount of dudes from all over Europe, I have to ask were DO YOU find your Under the Tuscan Sun type stereotype "lovers". The one married German guy I had a one night stand with came back the next morning whimpering about getting me pregnant (as if!) not wanting me to show up in 9 months with a babe. All my Europeans have been boringly normal and not romantically puking all over my toilet


@globalnomad I think the key is in being the one to do the choosing. WHen you let the lover choose you, you end up with fools. I've always done well when I was the one doing the choosing. Also, there was plenty "wrong" with my guy, but it was my decision to have this kind of relationship that made it fun, not the man himself. I'm sure he might;ve behaved just as badly as some of of my previous duds, given half the chance. I guess what I'm saying is you can't let yourself be at the mercy of the same old story (which was why I didn't want a BF anymore), you have to be the author of your tender love stories, and choose your cast well. Does that sound nuts? I swear that's what I observed everyone doing in Europe. Everyone happy, I mean. Believe me, I had my share of crappy european flings till I figured it out -- that I'M the prize, not the dude. Call me delusional, but it works better when you're delusional, maybe!


Great piece, but please be kinder to uncircumcised penises. They are SUPPOSED to look like “a soggy, flesh-colored tennis sock.”


@myrna.minkoff I know!!! My (American) boyfriend still possesses his tennis sock and I'm quite glad he does. We all have our preferences.


@insouciantlover: Vive le difference! And I'm frankly not very pleased that my own tennis sock was taken from me as an infant... but I manage.


@myrna.minkoff Sing it


@myrna.minkoff did I say it was a bad thing?


@carolita It's a bad thing if they don't take proper care of it...


@myrna.minkoff Mate, if they don't take proper care of it, it's not the foreskin that's the problem.


@myrna.minkoff Seriously! I was surprised at the European, male member bash too (at least, it sounded like a bash). I don't get it, because circumcised penises look so...unprotected. I like it when they come with their own 'sleeve' because then they are like a magic trick in themselves :)


@Denise Lang@facebook

Sounds like someone needs to knit someone a cosy.


I must have a decaying and blackened little heart, because my first thought upon reading "He and his wife have an arrangement" was to laugh.


@theballgirl No, just maybe a little more attuned to the married man bullshit frequency.


@theballgirl I liked the bit about the "arrangement" being about her needing a break from him. That's the backstory I prefer. :)


@feartie I guess so :] Or maybe it's because I just don't trust anyone, inherently. They gots to earn that shit.


@tortietabbie believe me, there's a lot more of that going around than you think. You just have to avoid the ones who don't actually MEAN it. Actually, that was the only time I ever did that married but available thing, and I only did it because I trusted my friend to be right about the so-called "arrangement."You're not supposed to believe the married guy himself! haha!


One of the more fulfilling relationships I have had bore a resemblance to this, and you captured the end of it so well. A strange combination of wistfulness, relief, and satisfaction.

Also, I positively LOVED this line:

In Paris, the difference between a boyfriend and a lover is the difference between full-time employment and the five weeks of vacation it has earned you.


Mmm...this was delicious to read!

"Leave someone with the best they have to offer you, and throw the rest away." Tres jolie.


This was amazing. And for a moment, I began to fantasize about taking a lover (I couldn't type that without laughing at myself typing it)...and then I realized that my boyfriend has never stopped treating me like a queen and still shaves every day, even when he doesn't want to, just because he knows I prefer not to feel stubble.

Maybe I just need a trip to Paris, instead. Or anywhere outside of my zip code.


@kayjay Aw, yay. He sounds great!


@kayjay Bravo! :)


This was so great.


Suddenly quite thankful to live in New York where my chances of finding an "awailable" European of my own is infinitely higher than elsewhere in the country.


The details are so great in this. His outfits! His nails! The image of you saying goodbye in your awesome seemingly carefree outfit! I love it all. I think this is the best thing I've read on the Hairpin.


Gorgeous. Now I want to take a lover. Sounds like just what I need. :)


Lovely, just lovely.


before i read this i was trying to guess whether the picture was a melting Kraft single or a dental dam


@Rubyinthedust: I think I've heard that Kraft singles can be used as a dental dam in an emergency...


@Rubyinthedust Or vice versa.




@Rubyinthedust I completely thought this was going to be about the difference between French and American cheese.



No thanks, I'll have my without the cheese.


... I don't get it. We've talked about how women do hold at least some responsibility not to bang a married man because.. sisterhood, do unto others etc.

How is this any different? I know there's ostensibly an "arrangement" between the man and the wife, but it kind of seems like a dude cheating on his wife while he's away.

I just don't buy the premise that since it's an American in Europe, everything is romantic, frilly and may as well be a movie set.

I don't want this comment to come off as bitchy and condescending, especially because everybody is usually very kind here. This definitely was an entertaining read and I enjoyed it very much. I'm just a little uncomfortable with the experience being something to aspire to.


@nyikin Personally, I don't think it's being set up as "something to aspire to" so much as "something that happened."

Furthermore, I think we can assume the author found out more about the "free marriage" situation before falling into bed with Florian, since an indeterminate amount of time was skipped in the narrative between finding out about his arrangement and being with him. I don't like/approve of cheating, but it seems unfair to people who practice open relationships to assume anyone who professes to have one is cheating, which is what your comment sounds like to me.


@SarahP Also, I don't want to come off as bitchy either; I am trying to be succinct so my boss wouldn't notice I was commenting on a website instead of doing my actual work, but I sometimes feel succinctness comes off as being curt.


@SarahP I wasn't trying to judge all open relationships as cheating. Something about the fact he was away from his home, plus the cliched terminology of an "understanding" with his wife just made me give the entire situation a bit of a *side eye*.

I think I may just need to accept it at face value and take this piece for what it is - a well-written enjoyable story.

ETA: You didn't come across at bitchy at all, don't worry.


@nyikin The "married" part was definitely NOT what I was promoting. It could have all happened with an unmarried guy with a full scholarship to Sydney, Australia in the spring. The main point was learning to tag and release an interesting and enriching specimen. And the release from the Cinderella myth. I never advise an affair with a married man. This was a special case. The guy had trustworthy references, for one. Like I said elsewhere, you're not supposed to take the married guy's word for things!



Hmmm, if a man used that tag-and-release metaphor about a woman, even in friendly company, I would have something to say about it. Wouldn't you?


As someone currently enmeshed, for better or worse, in her won adventures amongst the "intellos," I found this a real joy to read. Not only because of the sweetness with which it's written, but because it proves someone has actually survived to tell the tale.


Also, this "European" attitude about marriage that some men and women seem to put to on a pedestal and/or hold up to as the gold standard bears both further analysis and de-bunking. Its certainly true, based on very simple surveys, that French men/women are less inclined to freak about cheating than say, Americans. However, this attitude is changing mightily: Current 18-30 yr olds in france are the first generation in awhile to largely NOT tolerate it - again base on some very simply, base-level surveys. Thus, why the change??


@theballgirl jesus, your grammar is pitiful.


@theballgirl younger French folks also voted in Chirac and Sarkozy. And married Sarkozy! (Carla Bruni is a perfect example of this kind of rebellion -- thinks she's very "rock star" for marrying Sarkozy!) These younger French are much more conservative than previous generations because they had nothing to fight except the previous generations and everything they stand for. There will be no no Colette, no Simone de Beauvoir, no Camus, no Derrida amongst them, no Foucault, no Lacan, not even a Milner. (Hahahaha. The Milner part was for the structuralists out there). Seriously, with very few exceptions they're boring as hell from what I see. They're definitely on the wrong track. France is facing serious waves intolerance within itself.


Ah, Carolita. I didn't know of you pre-Hairpin, but I'm in love with everything you do. <3


You know, I was talking to a friend about what I wanted in a relationship, and she actually suggested that I might do well with a married man in an open relationship. She had all kinds of suggestions for ensuring that I wouldn't be the Other Woman (as in, making sure the wife really was on board), and it actually sounds awesome. This article is wonderful, and it makes me feel like that's actually a possibility.


@mlle.gateau Please, think twice. The married lover part is not the best part of the story. I cannot recommend that course. See above response re married lovers! Then reread the story. I have your best interest at heart.


@carolita No, I mean, I'm not planning to run off and find a marry dude to so he and I can cheat on his wife or anything like that and expect it to be all roses and moonlight. What I like about your article is the positive and temporary nature of the relationship you describe, and the finality of it. I've done the thing where you date someone and there's a fixed endpoint, and it's never ended well, because usually the dude gets attached and doesn't just get on his train and leave (or most recently, kept contacting me after I got on my train and left).

I should have separated out the married man part of it, because that's more in reference to a conversation I had with a friend recently, and that part of article reminded me of it. That's a whole different ballgame, being in an open relationship is not the same as what you describe, I realize that, the two just linked in my mind. Trust me, I'm more optimistic about the feasibility of a positive short-term affair than I am about carrying on with a married man.


@mlle.gateau Phew! I was afraid I'd written something irresponsible! Good girl. Yeah, you know, it's harder to have this kind of relationship in the USA, if only because the guys are as brainwashed by the Cinderella (live happily ever after together, as opposed to apart) as the gals they're dating. The closest thing to a lover I've seen in the USA is the dread "fuckbuddy." Which is never like a lover thing. It usually just involves, from what I've seen, some guy getting all the pleasure while not being very nice at all to a woman who secretly wishes the guy would become her boyfriend... Maybe "friends with benefits" can be nice. I guess the point is, you have to find someone who isn't addled by the wife/whore dichotomy. I think writing and talking about it and putting it out there is helpful to changing the way people think. I'm just trying to do my little part. Plus, I'm sure it's possible, even if it's harder, here in the USA. The point of my story was that in a way, I myself MADE it happen by the way I decided to approach and understand things. That was the magic trick.


@carolita This made me think of a couple of years ago when I have two affairs at the same time. The first was with a married woman - they had an 'arrangement'. I had been friends with both of them for a while, and the husband was lovely and sane about it. She was not. I did NOT except to be turned into a mistress, and I did not react to it well. That friendship imploded, but it wasn't the marriage bit that did for it.

The other was more of a friend with benefits than a lover, since there was absolutely no romantic interest there at all. But there was genuine friendship, and I think we were good practice for each other in terms of communication and maintaining a relationship over a period of time. He was seeing other people at the same time, and it was interesting to explore that - see what my reactions to that were, etc. I am not poly (too tiring) but I worked fine in a (non romantic) relationship with someone who was. It ended quite naturally, and I think of it fondly, even though I kind of want to smack him when I see him now, for being such a typical brogressive.

There's a pretty active internet poly community in the US, if you want to think about/look into that sort of thing. I always really enjoyed poly weekly http://polyweekly.com/ The thing I liked the best ever about the poly community - and the kink community, which overlaps a bit - is the emphasis on processing your own shit, with support from your partners, and overtly communicating your expectations, needs and boundaries. And, come to think of it, on not insisting that one relationship be everything. I'm in a monogamous relationship now, but those are all skills I bring to it - I still need things from my friends and family that my partner can't give me, just because one person cannot be all things for another. And that shedding of the 'it will all be magical and we won't need to say anything and everything will be perfect forever' attitude was one of the healthiest things I ever did.

Hello, I appear to have written another blog entry on the hairpin.


I love your writing Carolita! You have a great way of telling your stories and some of the comments that happen because of them are priceless. Thank you for improving upon my day.

The Queen of No

La-la loved this. I love anything that reminds me of how many different romantic relationships exist out there and not everything has to be forever. I've only started embracing that in the past few months and I feel better than ever.


@The Queen of No Loves this too. Having JUST put the boyfriend on hiatus and taken a lover myself this week, it makes a lot of difference to see it this way. I like the lover paradigm better than the monogamous boyfriend OMG when will he propose idea.


@mistything Yeah, the "when will he propose" is just the road to hell, as far as I can see. Why do this to oneself? Egads.


Sooo... who else is picturing her lover as this guy, but with a french accent? http://www.threedogstraining.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Inigo-Montoya-Alpha.jpg Anyone?


I love the watercolor hanky. Tres charmant.

When I get tipsy I often wax poetic on the romance of things that didn't happen, things that can't be spoiled because they come with expiration dates. Interludes where you have a limitation. Those "could have beens" and "if onlys" are rare and precious- because they never get tainted with reality. I have several cherished perfect dates that I look back on, and just love that they happened.


@E You've said it so well. I'm so glad some of those pretty possibilities never became reality.


Love this! Such great writing.


The word "lover" usually gives me the skeevy heebie-jeebies, (especially because in the tabloid press here no gay man or lesbian has a partner or a boy/girlfriend, they have a "LOVER") but I've come to discover lately that I can tolerate its use in two instances:

1. Songs. Barbra Streisand belting out "Lover, Come Back To Me", Stevie Wonder's "Part Time Lover" and even, God help me, Sophie B. Hawkins.

2. Pieces like this.

Katie Scarlett

@Decca I LOVE that Babs song -- esp that part with the breathy giggle!


@Decca It used to solely remind me of the Hot Tub Lovers from SNL. "I am Professor Virginia Clarvin and this is my lov-ah, Roger."


@Katie Scarlett YES! The breathy giggle is wonderful. That's the ony song that I cannot help lipsynching along to, Seth Rudetsky-style, in public.

Katie Scarlett

@Decca Oh my God I just googled Seth Rudetsky -- can't believe I didn't know about this guy! The Hairpin: ladies helping ladies.


Carolita, can you please write and illustrate a memoir? And/or be my friend?

Also, I am definitely on board with the idea of lovers, or flings, though I'd personally prefer someone single. I found myself in a similar situation with an American (believe it or not... of all the international people in that city!!???!!!) in Geneva. We're still good friends back here in the States. It was romantic and fun, and not at all stressful, thankfully, since I I couldn't have dealt with added stress at the time (especially after breaking up with the cat-hating French "mec").

In fact, I'd be open to such an arrangement right now, considering how not-ready I am for a serious relationship or marriage (KATE BOLICK!!!!!!) at present. How does one find short-term-yet-fairly-reliable lovers in intello-rich American metropolitan areas (like my beloved Hub)? Inquiring minds would like to know!


@beeline96 just keep your eyes peeled and your hands busy. :)


@beeline96 That reply above was to "how to find short-term-yet-fairly-reliable lovers," btw! And, I'm working on the illustrated memoir! Thanks! :)


Such a lovely piece! I'm with @beeline96, also -- would love to see you write a memoir.


How can this possibly be real?? Carolita, you are amazing.


You are all the best commenters ever, so articulate and well-thought! I must remember to only read comments on The Hairpin, though -- it's not like this everywhere else! This is an internet oasis.


@carolita That is my comment-reading policy.

Bert Macklin, FBI

@carolita @whateverlolawants This is my comment-reading policy as well. I have friends who laugh at me frequently, because any time I'm telling them about some awesome thing I read on the internet, it always ends with some variation on "and then the awful people on the internet ruined it in the comments," unless it came from here!

Places with unexpectedly (at first, to me)awful commenters? The CBC and The Globe and Mail.


@Bert Macklin, FBI

You know, if I was in charge of moderating the comments someplace like the Mail, I don't know if I'd be able to resist going absolutely bonkers with it. I mean, my mission would basically be to make it the home of the most shockingly decent comments section on the entire internet. It would be Thumper's mom from hell to breakfast.


@Bert Macklin, FBI

And yet when I go to Toronto, everyone is so nice! Maybe it's out-of-sorts Leafs fans who are sick of their team losing to desert communities?

Bert Macklin, FBI

@wharrgarbl ohmygoodness, yes. I would be all, "you know what, everyone thinks Canadians are weirdly polite, so BE WEIRDLY POLITE, dammit"

Seriously, they're all mean and terrible even on the Facts & Arguments essay pieces. It's not even a news story!

Bert Macklin, FBI

@atipofthehat Ugh. Probably? Or Canucks fans who aren't quite angry enough to riot?

Speaking of hockey teams in desert communities...I briefly felt bad for everyone associated with the Thrashers, since they had to move from Atlanta to...Winnipeg. Buuuut then I remembered they make millions of dollars to play a game, and felt less bad? And at least now they get to play hockey in a city that consistently gets actual snow?

Apparently today is rambling off-topic-y comments/starting sentences with conjunctions day? This is my third comment ever, here! The "the comments here are so nice" thread finally made me actually use my month-ish-old username! I'm sorry!

Samia Tamrin Ahmed@facebook

@carolita > love your writing...i come to hairpin and search out carolita to see if theres anything new- it was a fun read, and u make a picture appear.....almost like the yellow silk from under a sleeve! love your work!


Absolutely wonderful. I only wish my early dalliances with European men had been half so enjoyable...

Katie Scarlett

This was so nice!
Sensible AND romantic!


@Katie Scarlett ha! your barbara del geddes avatar in the "stupid, stupid, stupid" scene! brilliant!

Katie Scarlett

@carolita I love that you recognize it! I kinda look vaguely like Midge -- esp w/ my glasses on -- and sometimes I like to recreate that scene when I'm upset so I felt it was an appropriate avatar


@Katie Scarlett

Poor Midge. With her depictions of cantilevered lingerie and her amazing apartment, she deserved better than that idiot Scottie.


I also really enjoyed this story. I love the spirit with which this piece is written in.

I was in a relationship where we had 'an arrangement'. We lived continents apart and saw each other several times a year. It made sense that when we were apart, we could seek warmth in the arms of another. It was liberating, exhilarating and felt like the dawn of my sexual awakening. Life was good because I had someone who adored me and someone to share the emotional and intellectual aspect of a relationship with, but also the freedom to explore sexually with whomever I chose. I wasn't sleeping with everyone under the sun, but the fact that I COULD, was hugely exciting. I didn't look for boyfriends I looked for sex-friends. That relationship completely changed my perspective on obligation, expectation, possession and affection.

Funnily when that relationship ended, I thought I would be engaging in outrageous casual sex and up for all of it. But I no longer wanted just sex, I wanted more. And I wanted more because I knew that I was better than someone's fuck buddy/mistress/emotionless fuck.

I met a beautifully natured boy recently, and at first, worried that I could fuck it all up because my eye was so used to wandering. Then I realised that I actually enjoyed monogamy with this person. We don't have labels for each other, but it feels good to lay the ground works for something good in the future.

Not saying one 'style' of relationship is better than the other, but both are nice and have their own perks.


@ssss Good for you! Everything has its moment. I got involved with someone long term a few years after my "lover" episode, and after a few failed attempts to find a similar kind of "lover" in NY. (Not saying it's impossible, but when compatibility is a factor, one must be picky and patient -- which is why I advised someone else to "keep your eyes peeled and your hands busy.") But I don't think it would have happened if I hadn't had the lover experience first. When I met my longterm guy, I was much more mature emotionally, and wasn't hoping he'd "save" me or "choose" me, or validate all my preconceived and hackneyed romantic notions and live happily ever after with me. We are actually living happily... (ever now?)! But I'm not worried about forever and ever. I, too, was worried I wouldn't like it at first (particularly as I've been single for over twenty of my adult years), but I think we have something Kate Bolick would call a successful alternative relationship. And I do like it!

Madam Verm

Oh, I needed this. I love it when you gals get into my head and make me feel all better.


This was a really insightful piece, and there's a lot of meaning here as to the nature of romance as simultaneously transient and eternal.

That being said, I can't shake the feeling that if I spent any amount of time with you I would want to push you down a flight of stairs. Something about the way you described your ex, I think, and the amount of emphasis you placed on your lovers' willingness to accommodate.

Still, your writing is good and my opinion of you is irrelevant. May you have many equally pleasant encounters of precisely the correct length ;)


as if I weren't ALREADY tempted to drop my responsible, secure, repetitive life and move to France for irresponsible adventures....

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