As I struggled to sleep last night, wrestling with angst about a woman I’ve never met who I’ve stretched with a few times, and another woman I’ve met a few times and had sex with twice, I thought back to my childhood experience of being left, of not knowing where my mom was.

I wondered if my manic checking of my phone to see if there was a text was in some way a replay of emotions that I might have felt way back when. I realized that, of course, it is.

I must have spent so much time just imagining my mom walking through the door or calling, and I must have spent so much time imagining she’d forgotten about me, that she didn’t know or didn’t care where I was, what I was doing. It gave a particular poignancy to the hunger, the desperation, with which I wait for notifications on my phone telling me that a woman, somewhere, is thinking of me.

So that’s part one of the realization that I had in my sleeplessness.

Part two is a little more amorphous, but I think in some ways maybe more important. And it’s that as I was thinking about S., the woman in California whom I’ve never met, with whom I’ve stretched a couple of times, who has promised me lots and has delivered lots less, and who was out having sex with a guy she’d gone on a first date with. I thought about how all of my impulses are to try to muscle her behavior into compliance with my wishes, to get her to demonstrate somehow that she is thinking of me. How I’m inclined to (try to) constrain my requests such that she does so, even while, at the end of the day she’s not thinking of me.

I’m trying to create something that doesn’t exist.

I thought about Marina, and about Charlotte, and at times Veronique, and Cleo, and Serena, who is another in the epiphany moment here, and how hard I have tried to come up with a solution to the problem that none of them was, or is, thinking of me as much as I might wish. A solution that would enable them, in the level of thought that they are having about me, and in the moments that they’re not thinking about me, to nonetheless demonstrate concern, consideration, appreciation, and on some level, an acknowledgement of my existence, and an accommodation to my pain.

Try though I might to extract that from these women, I’m never able to, because I want something I didn’t get. I want something they can’t provide. It feels (oh so) good when they give me a simulacrum of it, for sure. But it feels so bad when the simulacrum reveals itself.

And in the current moment, more so with Serena than with S., but to a certain extent with both, I’m struggling to maintain relationships with each of them that simultaneously appreciates and respects what it is they do offer, while mourning what it is that they don’t, but accepting that. Accommodating myself to that, rather than demanding that they accommodate themselves to my needs.

I don’t know if I can pull that off. I don’t know if I can tamp down my hunger.

On some level I know I can’t. I want what I want. The issue is not the wanting. It’s what I do with the wanting. How I situate it in the context of the relationship, what I ask for. In the past, my mounting demands often have had the effect of pushing people away. Cleo is the most recent example. Instead of simply accepting what she wanted to offer and grieving the ways in which it fell short of my wishes, I pushed and pushed and pushed until she left.

I’m not doing that with Serena. I’m not doing that with S.

It’s painful.

I lost a fair amount of sleep last night in part over it. But there is something gratifying and satisfying about the knowledge that while perfection may not be available, fun still is. In the case of Serena, we have astonishing, incredible sex. It’s just so hot and fun. And in the case of S., she doesn’t offer me very much. In a best-case scenario, she’ll give me some hotness, a few orgasms at a distance. But that’s fun. And I don’t need to make it into something it isn’t, or to torture myself over something it refuses to be.

I don’t know how successful I’ll be, but it feels like a useful understanding that maybe what I ought to do in all these relationships is rather than try, try, try to make them be precisely what I wish them to be and try to come up with the hopeful solution to the fact that a woman is not thinking about me all the time, instead, to simply accept that I am, to S., a fun distraction to which she will turn occasionally when she does in the context of a busy life filled with real people in person.

And in the case of Serena, that she too leads a very busy, overwhelming even, life which she struggles to manage. And just as she represents an exciting vacation to me from my life, I can represent that to her without demanding that she be available as much as I wish or respond in the ways that I wish or on the timetable that I wish. She’s demonstrated to me that her cycle time is not my cycle time. She’s also demonstrated to me that she’s interested, excited, on some level. And I imagine that that may or may not continue and that I may or may not be consistent with her life, that the fun that I offer may be sufficiently similar to the fun she has in the rest of her life, that it’s just not worth the extra effort. That may be. That was certainly true with Cleo. But it may be that if I’m calm enough and respectful enough, if I accept genuinely, at least behaviorally, if not emotionally, what is and isn’t available to me from Serena, she may continue to make herself available less than I might wish, not precisely in the ways that I might wish, but in ways that are nonetheless rich and rewarding.

Because, of course, this is what my mom did.

She wasn’t available in the ways that I wanted. She wasn’t available when I wanted or how I wanted. But she wasn’t unavailable. She was available, intermittently, sporadically, imperfectly. And when she wasn’t available early on, I must not have known if she ever would be again. But she demonstrated to me that, over time, she was available, just not perfectly. Maybe I never accommodated myself to that, or maybe I did, but I nonetheless remain(ed) committed to revisiting the site of the original wound.

In any event, as I lay in bed thinking about all this, I realized that it is my mom who I miss. In my missing my mom, I substituted that with missing S., and missing Serena.

They both offer something fun. It just isn’t what I (thought I) wanted.

And I can want less. Or maybe I can’t want less, but I certainly can accept less.

I can take pleasure in less.

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