Somewhere between a one-night stand and a relationship lies the lover, our writer discovered while having an affair with a French man. Follow these ground rules, and have the time of your life.
There are some romantic situations you may never expect to find yourself in. Like, say, making out with a gorgeous blonde Playboy model with fake hair, fake lips, and fake boobs (Yes, I did this, and I don’t mean to judge those who get physical enhancements, but my same-sex crushes are typically edgier chicks like Ruby Rose or Famke Janssen). Or dating a man 12 years my junior. (I always believed I knew better than to go down that road.). But, what has surprised me most is a more recent situation.
It’s an amusingly cliché scene: a perfect spring Los Angeles evening, with the nighttime Jasmine in full bloom (you can’t go anywhere in the City of Angels without smelling the seductive aroma at that time of year). My romantic interest and I were sipping champagne in his Jacuzzi on the back deck of his gorgeous house that has a perfect view of the city lights.
What was less cliché, or I should say, what caught me off-guard: I was being serenaded on violin by a naked Frenchman who speaks five languages, doesn’t know who Courtney Love is, and spent most a decade playing gypsy music in a mule-drawn wagon throughout Eastern Europe.
His name was, well, let’s just call him François, and he was just my type: Tall and thin, and working an asymmetrical haircut. He was dressed head-to-toe in black, high-end, well-tailored clothes—très ‘90s-era Trent Reznor meets Muse’s Matt Bellamy. I pegged his duds as Helmut Lang, Vivienne Westwood, or Jean-Paul Gaultier. But, as it turned out, he’d never heard of any of them: Most of his wardrobe was bespoke, “custom-made by a designer friend” or bought “at some boutique somewhere in Europe” (of course it was). He’s been living in the States for about eight years, but it felt more like eight minutes.
While the novelty of a naked Frenchman serenading me on violin was exciting, the under-romanced American in me nearly giggled. It was like a Harlequin romance novel, or that episode of Sex and the City when Russian artist Aleksandr Petrovsky (played by Mikhail Baryshnikov) read poetry to Carrie Bradshaw by the fire on a cold, rainy night. She was stifling a giggle too. She once told “The Russian,” as she always referred to him, “You are too Russian for me!” Maybe François is just “too French” for me?
As he was serenading me, I had what could only be described as a mini epiphany. I had previously decided that I really couldn’t date Francois. I believe in monogamy and I am looking for a long-term relationship, and Francois believes in open relationships and is not looking for anything. Before I broke it off with him, I thought of Carrie Bradshaw again and decided to, as she so cornily said in explaining her relationship with “The Russian,” “take a lover.”
What is a lover? A lovah … besides a goofily lewd SNL sketch with Rachel Dratch and Will Ferrell, I mean. Well, it’s not a one-night stand or a booty call or a friend with benefits. And it is not necessarily, at least in my case, short-lived. I’m talking about this beautiful romantic space that lies between being in a committed relationship and being promiscuous.
I’m a serial monogamist and don’t typically sleep around, nor have I ever cheated. I’ve had six one-night stands in my life—I typically don’t sleep with a man with long-term-relationship potential until after three or four dates and decide not to date other people. So what’s a girl to do when you’re in between relationships, but don’t want to whore around? Or who might just be too busy to focus on a serious relationship, but also don’t want to just bed- hop?
You take a lover.
The idea of this type of interim relationship is that you can be with someone you are attracted to, who you harbor romantic feelings for (unlike the “friends with benefits”), share affection for, respect, wonderful talks, bask in the glow of each others’ loveliness, have amazing sex, go on real dates together. And—this is important—you know upfront that there is a limit to how deep it will go. Because you know that it won’t go on forever, and you’re okay with that. You’ve accepted it, you’re genuinely at peace with it, and you’re just enjoying yourself in the moment.
How do you resist getting attached to such a person? I set up some rules:
Rule 1. Make sure there is one solid deal-breaker so that you don’t get attached. For me, it’s about monogamy. He doesn’t believe in it. I do. Game over.
Rule 2. Make sure you both know the deal, i.e., no commitment, no rules, and no expectations—except for one: Expect it to end.
Rule 3. Remember that he is temporary. Stay on your path of finding a person with real relationship potential if that is your goal.
Rule 4. If you find someone who is relationship material, ditch the temp so you don’t overlap. I’m just not that girl.
Rule 5. Always use protection. Wait, maybe that should be Rule 1.
Rule 6. If you are going to write about the experience, ask permission first. My Frenchman granted me permission …except for his name.
Though I initially snickered at the naked violin night, I got used to spending similar sexy “Carrie and the Russian” types of evenings together. We sipped liqueur, nibbled on cherries and dark chocolate, and even engaged in a champagne-sex-inspired late-night naked photo shoot. All of my lingerie was put to good use, as he was the type of gentleman who liked to take his time and unwrap his moi chéri. He also really liked to manger la chatte. I know these are European stereotypes, but they are often true. We spent a few months simply lounging around drinking, talking, playing each other music, and having sex. It was all quite lovely.
But I was almost more fascinated and intrigued by our culture clash.
“You’re not going to believe this!” I said one night as soon as he walked in my door.
He was more interested in greeting me properly with a passionate kiss and saying “bonjour Carrie baby” as he often does. Men don’t say our names enough. It was poetic in his French accent.
I kissed him quickly, then continued with my news. “Courtney Love just went off on my Facebook page because of my review of the Kurt Cobain documentary, Montage of Heck!”
“Who is Courtney Love?” he asked.
“You’ve got to be kidding!”
He just stared at me.
“The singer?! Hole?! Married to Kurt Cobain?! I’m sorry, but I’m kind of flattered that she not alone read it, but cared enough to rant.” As soon as I said it, I realized how egotistical it was.
“Oh, I heard of Kurt Cobain,” he said, unimpressed.
“HEARD OF??! I wrote a BOOK on Nirvana. You do know what I do for a living, right?” I was perplexed. Is he messing with me?
“You’ve got to understand. I spent ten years in a wagon traveling through Romania and France and Italy. We didn’t have televisions. I saw a newspaper once that he shot himself and that’s all I know. I listen to gypsy music not American rock music,” he said.
Oh, right. He wasn’t kidding. While the ‘90s were happening, he really was playing gypsy Hungarian folk music in a mule-drawn wagon with a group of musicians living an inspired nomadic life, while I worked at Billboard magazine immersed in grunge, Brit pop, and electronica. We quite literally had nothing in common except a fondness for each other, sweet treats, a nice cocktail, and, of course, faire l’amour.
Most of my first-date conversations center around talking about our lives, which for a workaholic like me and a lot of guys I’m drawn to (and who are drawn to me), means talking about our careers. But, I couldn’t do that with François. I think I talk too much about work, and my work didn’t really resonate with François—it couldn’t. I couldn’t regale him with stories of how George Clooney had a whiskey in one hand and me in the other as I interviewed him at an Oscar after-party for People, or the time I watched the Reading Festival from the stage. He didn’t know what any of that meant, and if he did, I doubt he would care. And that, to me, was refreshing, a wake-up call to discuss something more meaningful.
Yet, even with the severe culture clash, we were never at a loss for words. We talked about the stuff you don’t dare talk about with someone you are actually trying to impress—someone you want a real relationship with. The kind of stuff you don’t even bring up in therapy until six months in. But, here François and I were in bed sharing very deep, intimate stories of our pasts. We talked about our most recent relationships and what went wrong, what went right, and who we want to be in our next relationship. Hell, he even gave me tips on how to make my online dating profile more attractive. We’d even share stories of other people we were seeing, without being jealous of one another. It was nice to not talk about work or current events or movies or TV, and isntead discuss human nature and the universal themes of love, loss, heartbreak, and life philosophies.
Naturally, I used this as yet another opportunity to understand this non-monogamy world that keeps entering my field of vision. I still find it hard to understand how a man can love his wife so dearly, yet need to sleep with other people. “Because sex is sex. It doesn’t mean I loved her any less,” he explained to me repeatedly. He and his ex-wife had an open relationship. It’s something I know I could still never do, but I’m further on my way to comprehending this other way to love. In understanding this, it really lessens the sting of my ex-husband’s infidelity.
I didn’t set out to learn a valuable lesson, but I think I did.
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