St. John’s Antigua- I am a few years older now and I know this: There are tastes of mouths I could not have lived without… .” This is a quote from a woman named Daphne Gottlieb that I found on the Internet, and what I like about it, and why I bothered to copy and keep it, is that it is so very honest, so very vulnerable. It is an admission, a confession, and an exultation all at the same time; and it speaks to something many of us know well but don’t necessarily know how to explain: Passion.
Because it is such a powerful and potentially dangerous thing, passion is something we rarely admit to feeling. Instead, we dress it up in proper clothes; call it by a name that is more palatable, more easily digested, more socially acceptable – like “love” or, sometimes, “desire” – and leave the grit for songwriters and artistes to express. Hence, it becomes Rod Stewart’s job to sing, “We all need passion; even the Pope needs passion;” and then we gasp and blush, because passion implies all kinds of out-of-control carnal desires; and we’d prefer to think of that feeling we’re feeling as a romantic thing, maybe even a cerebral thing, but certainly not a thing characterised by base desire: by heat and wet; by yearning and craving; by mad fantasies and even madder risks… .
Well, I attended a social do the other day, and found myself in the company of some men who were as appealing as the bottom of a plate. I looked at these sturmy, almost asexual, fellers, and, plumbing the depths of my fertile imagination, I couldn’t imagine them in the throes of passion even when they were young.
I could look at their wives and still see – either by their hairstyles, their dress, or their still sensual moves on the dance floor, as they danced alone – that, somewhere, sometime, over the years, they, certainly, had felt the stirrings of passion and, likely, had even inspired it. And I wondered what had happened to these people; how things had come to this. Then I remembered St Paul and how, in his letter to the Corinthians, he had advised that “it is better to marry than to burn,” and I had a eureka moment… .
I wish I didn’t have to wait to die and go to heaven to have a conversation with St Paul. I wish I could tell him, right now, that heaven is also to be found right here on earth, albeit in bits and pieces. I’d tell him, too, that his words, maybe inadvertently, had condemned millions of women, especially, to unions full of ambition, and children, and nice homes, and Security with a capital “s” – but absolutely devoid of passion. Who among us hasn’t seen it (or been it)?
Looking back at those dancing women, I imagined them as young women who’d pursued, or been pursued by, fellers at whom their parents and pastors had shaken their heads in disapproval. These were the types of men that caused mothers, worried about their girls’ virginity, to wake up fathers to go and pick up their daughters before parties ended. For these girls were giddy with passion for the boys who made them feel alive, who inspired them to tease and spray their hair into impossible beehives, who made them wear short and accessible skirts, who made them slip out of their bedrooms when the household was asleep, and who made them lie to their parents and defy social convention.
It is highly possible that these fellers were, indeed, looking only for a good time; and no responsible parents would want their daughter to be “used” in this way – even if the young woman herself wasn’t complaining. And so, they would do the responsible thing: They would point her – forcefully, if necessary – in the direction of a feller who didn’t dance; because, while he may have lacked rhythm, he possessed ambition, or came from good stock, or would be a good provider. And he certainly could be trusted to bring their girl home on time, in his daddy’s BMC and not some friend’s borrowed Celica – and without putting his hand on her leg, either.
So what if she didn’t “feel anything” for him? What were feelings compared with a good job; and wasn’t it time that she grew up, settled down, and put those childish things behind her, anyway? And so, having been convinced, or compelled, she gave up the heady rush, the sweaty palms, the liquid melt that came from just seeing the man who woke her passion; she traded her dancing shoes for sensible pumps that would allow her to walk away from the cycle of heated fights and even hotter making-up; and she listened when they said it was better to marry than to burn…
The thing is that, left alone to run its course, passion either burns itself out or morphs into something else a couple can sustain. But people are just naturally distrustful of anything that threatens to change the person they think they know and of anyone who dilutes the control they enjoy. For even as grown, seasoned, women looking to have a bit of fun, to reclaim or revive the girl we used to be, to rekindle the passion that used to drive us, there’s always fast sister, a friend, a well-wisher, who will talk to us for our own good – or even give us “a message from God” – that the man who blows our skirt up; who rocks our boat, if not our world; who makes us want to go “through the fire, to the limit, to the wall, for a chance to be with” him, is wrong for us, or is looking to feather his nest, or is just looking for a good time.
… All I know, Sisters, is that some time before she goes off to meet St Paul in person, what rewinds on the reel of a woman’s life is not her husband’s income, the size of the house in which they lived, nor the security of the bank account their children will inherit: It is the taste of the mouths – however briefly – she is grateful to have not lived without.