I've seen, I've checked, and I know for sure. I got the utter certainty based on careful examination. THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE. No alternative to my marriage, to my way of life, to my aspirations. Either I keep my Leiden and my Oxford well in mind, or I commit suicide right as I stand, or rather sit on my sofa in this Parisian banlieue.
I've just touched the bottom. It was a catabasis, the utter descent into the abyss. I pulled the brake right on the brink of depression. The Great Plague is something that I might mention as my justification. Yet sincerely speaking, I just came out of my own free will right to the brink and looked beyond. How my life could have been different. If I were actually lonely. If I were actually an immigrant. If I actually had no money on my account. If I actually belonged to this banlieue.
Yet I am a solvent citizen in my own Europe. An international scholar. An attractive, sexually active woman adored by her husband all along these last 15 years or so.
As soon as the pandemic is over and the flights out of Arabia operate again, I promise myself to offer a beautiful marriage, generously, bravely, by the ample standards of that God who loves beauty and who seems so absent in this Parisian banlieue (in spite of heads being cut off in His name). I will take my husband to the Concertgebouw, like in old times, and to Casa Rosso. I will pay for the two tickets from my own pocket, in an ostensive way, licking the traditional penis-shaped Amsterdamer lollipop.
Bon, et alors, quelle est la conclusion ? La conclusion générale is that all those men on Tinder et al. are not there to find a real woman or to build an authentic relationship, even one based on sexual affinity or good quality sex taken seriously. They are very far from that horizon of expectation, they have no faith that such things might come true, might be real. It is their lack of faith, paradoxically, that utterly prevents me from committing my zina.
All those dating sites are great producers of solitude, keeping people at ever increasing distance from fulfilment. Maybe this is the reason why they are so popular. They utterly channel and legitimize the fear of vagina dentata. For love hurts, even good quality sex hurts. Grandeur and braveness are required to face it.
So all those people distract themselves making believe they are searching. Yet they are constantly at one step from their great love and their great sex. They are almost touching it with the tips of their fingers. But it never comes true, keeping away from them the burden of commitment.
Meanwhile, the real life goes on, elsewhere.
And this is how, at 48 years of age, I finally get clear what I do truly appreciate in men. Manners, I say, and sexual ethics. And what it takes to be a good friend.
In other words, what makes a man is inside, just the way it happens to be with computers. Certainly, I also appreciate a lot of other things, such as bravery and that kind of entrepreneurial / engineering spirit (the equivalent of hunting capacity of our ancestors, and more, since it's men who make our lives go on, they pump the oil and make the tomatoes come to the supermarkets on time), and good communication skill. Yet on the other hand, it surprises me of how many attributes I am able to abdicate. First thing, I don't expect them to speak 20 languages and to have read all those books I read myself. I accept them lacking in intellectual terms, just as in ancient times men used to accept their concubines to be silly. It is long time ago that I understood there is no such thing as learned debates at breakfast. I don't seek any sort of social stance through being a couple. Perhaps I'm wrong in this, perhaps I miss greatly that sort of additional push, yet I've got used to make my career at uniquely my own personal expense.
And at the outcome of all these adventures, I have got what I bargained for. Certainly, many better things might be possible, greater, more dignified love is always a mirage on the horizon. Well, sexual ethics is a way of speaking, purity is a construct. Manners as well. Constructs. But what I got makes me feel comfortable. Gosh, I never expected my life would be like this at 48. I ended up liking my age, the age of greater insight.
And who knows, what kind of dashing adventure might be just around the corner, a surprise of that God who loves beauty.
In those remote times when I was still busy in doing research and writing learned essays, I wrote, among other topics, on women in the Orient, on how their oriental adventure was a way of adopting a male gender identity: that of a desert sheikh, not that of an Arab woman. This recollection leads me to the question what did I actually learn, adopt or engage during those last fifteen years of my desert marriage. It is something that comes to the fore as I am here in Paris and try to negotiate the reality to which I am exposed.
What strikes me is that somehow, anachronistically and through a peculiar gender inversion, I have adopted the characteristic prejudices of a desert sheikh. And now I talk to those men here, and I experience a surprizing, inverted cultural shock, as if I were attacking this City of Men from the East rather than from the West. What is more, as if I were myself an Oriental man rather than woman. We talk and they tell me things about them, their life, and the latter invariably includes stories of "having had" various -rather numerous- sexual partners. Narrated in plusquamperfectum, such stories should do nothing to a western woman. We are not supposed to be jealous of the past; almost to the contrary, the vastness of experience should be appreciated. Yet those confessions end up giving me that typically oriental feeling of vague repugnance. Those men are sullied, impure, in quite a substantial way, independently of any moral appreciation of what they did and what they did not, of what could be forgiven or justified, or simply considered as a normal life of an adult male. I just have that oriental feeling in the guts.
Apparently there exists a flourishing market of hymen reconstruction, producing false virgin brides for the benefit of Oriental men. I wonder if there exists a technique of restoring male virtue for the benefit of the uncompromising Oriental women like me.
Et voilà, my ephemeral love is gone, even sooner than the red roses of passion are gone. No, not him. In that delicate field, he has both directness and refined manners that I never, or very rarely, saw among much more educated, upper class men. How much paradoxical it is to say that it is religion that tears us apart.
Whatever Polish journals might say about it, France is not a caliphate, and truly the Islamic sexual ethics as I saw during this brief survey oscillate flatly around the zero line. It is so strange that I must come here to say this. After talking intimately to hundreds of men, I did not come across a single fundamentalist.
It is a strange feeling, as if I were the last woman on earth.
Overall, all these adventures, sweet and bitter, make me understand what actually my longing is, and what an exorbitant price I am disposed to pay for that utter luxury of having a God.
A God? Or perhaps that minoritarian, elitist, yet entirely earthly privilege of having a sexual dignity. Acquired at an exorbitant price of tears and living flesh torn apart.
Yet in a long lineage of women, I am the first one to have a sexual dignity. My mother, and the mother of my mother, and the mother of the mother of my mother had neither sharaf nor effective control over their bodies; they lived lame, dirty and bitter sexual lives. With all those restrictions I've imposed upon myself, I am not only better served, but also infinitely freer to give myself to whoever I chose than any of them. Infinitely more senhora de mim (just to use the expression of the Portuguese feminist poet, Maria Teresa Horta). And all this made possible, since I've decided to leave behind the country and culture in which I was born. Where many of these acquired freedoms are about to be withdrawn just as I write these words.
I distinctly remember a lesson about sex that my mother gave me when I was a teenager. Myślisz, że seks to coś pięknego, she said, bo jeszcze nikt cię nie zerżnął tak, żeby cię wszystko bolało. It wouldn't be unfundamented to say that it is against the crudeness of this sentence that I converted, years later, to the religion of God. Because I wanted to live and to love differently, far away from my country, culture and spiritual void into which I had been born. Because I wanted to believe, against all evidence if necessary, that sex is beautiful and brings the grace of that God who loves beauty.
Last woman over the face of the earth as I may be, I stick to my sexual dignity so tightly, because I still believe that a moment might come in which such things matter.
In conclusion, the exorbitant price I pay is the price of hope. The price of keeping intact the belief in things that one day may matter.
The autumn brought me love: a love that is ephemeral, gratuitous, generous, tender, totally asocial, without a future. Et pourtant c'est une aventure tellement parisienne d'avoir tombé amoureuse d'un Arabe de la banlieue... In this silence and solitude of the Great Pandemic, he brought me red roses, those dark red roses of passion, and two bottles of Burgundy wine.
Most probably, I will continue married to my husband, who was my ephemeral, gratuitous, generous, tender, totally asocial love without a future 15 years ago. Most probably, I will vaguely continue my serendipitous search of a social love, a normal life, a home in France that I see as such an impossible venture. Most probably, I will continue as a solitaire woman. Most probably, I will timidly dream about that spiritual love at the heights of the religion of God. That intense and burning love of the Islamic paradise.
What can I do? Nothing, just fall on my knees and pray.