Tragically for her, she doesn’t have a fucking clue what it is she does want.
AND, she hates rejection.
Lucky for Athena, I think I have some insight into not just what she wants, but what she needs:
1) Athena craves safety. Not run of the mill physical safety, no. Athena craves a certain kind of psychic safety that she attains with a variety of strategies. Most often, she attains it by hiding behind a performative front that renders her more tender inner parts completely inaccessible. When she performs in this way, no one, nothing, can touch her. She’s invulnerable, because her interlocutors can’t even see her. What’s more, like a student who takes solace in the B she gets without trying (and in the A she imagines she would get were she to try, without testing that particular hypothesis), Athena risks little when acting. She can’t be rejected, because she isn’t even, really, on offer.
2) Athena pursues safety in other ways: she is, as I’ve written, extremely beautiful. Her looks are a blessing and a curse. She doesn’t have the prospect of invisibility in a crowd that most of us do. This affords her a certain luxurious power, in which she delights – and from which she finds it difficult to escape. She doesn’t often experience longing, pining, the aching desire that serves as bittersweet fuel for so many, so much of the time. Rather, she plays defense, fending off suitor after suitor, letting the occasional lucky fellow through (if not, fully, in). I have the image of a goalie in hockey: she wears enormous padding, and stands stolidly before the net, batting away shot after shot and, every once in a while, one gets through, she lets one through. But when one gets through, my metaphor suggests (and I wonder if this might have some truth), it gets through either by mistake or because she simply is too tired to stop it. The metaphor breaks down here, a little. But only a little. Like a good goalie, she never leaves her post, never goes on offense, never risks, let alone scores, her own goal.
Athena longs to take off her padding, to skate down the ice, to pick her shot, and slap the puck into the net of the goal down at the far side of the rink.
3) I mentioned that Athena is performative. Like many actors, she loves her work. It doesn’t make her miserable (in fact, she enjoys it) to put on a pretty face and play the character she plays most (all?) the time. It does, though, make her tired. Athena craves rest. She finds it unexpectedly satisfying to spend long periods of time alone, dressed in ridiculous slippers, in sweats, away from those she spends so much time and energy seducing with her not-quite-effortless, but continual, show.
4) And/but… Athena craves the fuel provided in social interactions. As beautiful as she is, as smart, as funny, as interesting as she may be, she lacks confidence in any of this, and she needs fairly steady reassurance. Left to her own devices, the flame of self-esteem lowers a bit. It doesn’t flicker. It doesn’t go out. But the heat it emits diminishes, Athena shivers a bit. And soon enough, she ventures forth into the world to collect some more kindling, to feed the flame, to warm her hands.
5) The rest she craves extends, as I’ve written, to the sexual realm. For Athena, the second half of the Oscar Wilde quote rings especially true: everything is about sex except sex; sex is about power. Sex is a realm in which Athena exerts her power to gain the fuel of reassurance, of self-esteem. The pleasure available to many of us in sex is secondary or tertiary to her. Maybe she enjoys the sex itself as a sensual endeavor, maybe not. In either case, it’s hardly the point. Here is where Athena’s cluelessness reaches its apex. I’ve written before about the longing I imagine she feels simply to let go, to allow herself not just to remove the padding and leave the goalie’s net, but to strip all the way down to be finally, fully, nude, exposed, and to be the puck, an object with no volition, subject simply to the forces, violent and tender, to which she might be subjected. Again, this metaphor works too hard, breaks down. Because for Athena to let go, truly, to allow herself the freedom of being, truly, an object, she needs a tender safety unavailable on a rink, in a contest.
She needs to know in her bones that she is safe, and that feeling, that confidence, has, thus far, eluded her. And it’s what she craves most of all. Not so much safety as the confident, relaxed, easeful certainty of safety.