I recently saw the British alternative rock band, Placebo, play a concert in New York and fell in love with them all over again. So many of their lyrics speak to me on a deep level and at the same time, they’re so simple, that I think, “I could’ve thought of that myself!” But I didn’t think of that myself. That’s the thing about great literature, poetry and song writing: the writers find ways to concisely articulate something we’ve been feeling for some time that we haven’t yet managed to put into words quite as well.
Seeing the concert reminded me of how I get introduced to them: I heard their song Every Me Every You play in the opening of the movie Cruel Intentions, which came out in 1999 (when I was 16). Both the movie and the song really resonated with me at the time. The beginning of the song went like this:
Sucker love is heaven sent.
You pucker up, our passion’s spent.
My heart’s a tart, your body’s rent.
My body’s broken, yours is bent.
Carve your name into my arm.
Instead of stressed, I lie here charmed.
Cause there’s nothing else to do,
Every me and every you.
For the rest of the lyrics, click here.
The story of Cruel Intentions, as you may recall, was a modern adaptation of Chodelos de Laclos’s 18th century novel called Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) about a stepbrother and sister in high society who sought to ruin the lives and reputations of others in their own quests for popularity, success and notches on the bed post. In the movie, Sebastian (Ryan Phillipe) was going after Annette (Reese Whitherspoon), a virgin from Kansas, who had a piece written up on her in Seventeen Magazine about “why she plans to wait.” He wanted to deflower her (oh my!), prove her wrong and wipe away that holier-than-though attitude. Katherine (Sarah Michelle Gellar), his stepsister who was a coke fiend and kind of an evil bitch, bet that he wouldn’t be able to seal the deal. If he won, she said he’d get to fuck her, (“because I’m the only person you can’t have and it kills you”) and if she won, she’d get his fancy car.
OK, back to me. When I first saw the movie, I was a virgin and intended to stay that way until marriage (hahahah, yeah right). The movie was kind of my introduction to sex, and apparently I wasn’t the only one. I had met the Catholic movement (Communion and Liberation) around that time and they taught me all kinds of wonderful and rosy things about life that I took to heart. Having sex before marriage wasn’t about the fact that it was “wrong” or “a sin,” it was about the fact that, if you believe in God, then your life is given to you by God. It’s a gift that has intrinsic value and meaning. And if you believe that that’s the case, then you’re shouldn’t allow yourself to be “used” by anyone. And if someone has sex with you without promising themselves to you for life (i.e. marriage) then they’re using you, and that’s a no no. I really liked that line of reasoning at the time, so I went with it.
And, as you might imagine, when I saw Cruel Intentions (first at the theater and then over and over again at home), I fancied myself to be Annette’s character. A self-righteous virgin, who’s proud of her choices in life and who everyone wants for this reason. Except in MY story, I wasn’t just going to give it up to some Casanova, and, if I did, he wouldn’t die in a car accident shortly thereafter, while trying to save my life (although, how poetic!). My story was going to end well!
And being the innocent prude worked well for a while. I mean, a lot of guys were after me partly because they were hoping to be the one to “pop my cherry,” but I expertly declined most of their advances. That was until I met Alex in college. I fell in love with him, had sex with him and then broke up with him a year later. And then it wasn’t like I could “re-virginize” myself (and, psst, in case you haven’t noticed, I kind of liked sex), so I decided to keep going. And I kept going into more relationship sex, then casual sex, then threesomes, sex with men and women, sex with multiple partners, orgies, you get the idea. Since I could no longer be the virginal Annette character, maybe I subconsciously decided to become the town-whore Katherine character. One of my favorite lines from the movie was one of hers where she said, to Sebastian:
“It’s okay for guys like you and Court to fuck everyone. But when I do it, I get dumped for innocent little twits like Cecile. God forbid, I exude confidence and enjoy sex. Do you think I relish the fact that I have to act like Mary Sunshine 24/7 so I can be considered a lady? I’m the Marcia-fucking-Brady of the Upper East Side, and sometimes, I want to kill myself. So there’s your psychoanalysis, Dr. Freud. Now tell me, are you in … or are you out?”
But first of all, as I realize now (yeah, I’m a late bloomer sometimes), our lives aren’t movies or books or TV-shows, they’re our LIVES and we can’t expect them to follow a pre-existing plot. As I write this, I realize how pathetic it is, but at the same time I know many of us try to model our lives after fairytales, novels, movies or TV shows, though few admit it (another great line from the movie: “Everybody does it, it’s just that nobody talks about it.”)
And the second thing is that: sure people who plot their lives after fairytales hope that they will end in “happily ever after,” when in real life that’s rarely, if ever, the case. I, on the other hand, often model my life after tragic novels, drama and stories that don’t end well. Except in my case, I often hope, like I did with Cruel Intentions, that MY story will actually end well. But whenever I find myself comparing my life to books or movies (Cruel Intentions wasn’t the first or only time I did that, by a long shot) or doing something otherwise experimentative and questionable, I often talk about it with one my friends, Imogen. And she always says, “You know this is going to end badly, right?”
And she’s always right. It does. But, then again, doesn’t everything ultimately end badly? If you assume that old age, loss, sickness and death, all of which is inevitable, are inherently bad, then, yes, everything will ultimately end badly and while we’re here, we might as well try to enjoy life to the fullest, even if that sometimes means heartbreak, pain and suffering in the quest for occasional happiness, inspiration and discovery.
One of my idols, Anais Nin (in case you haven’t noticed), once wrote, “I will always be the virgin-prostitute, the perverse angel, the two-faced sinister and saintly woman.” It’s one of my favorite quotes of hers. I realize that in trying to “choose” between the virginal Annette character and the self-assured whore-ish Katherine character, I’m perpetuating the myth that women can only be one or the other. And that men are only interested in the latter kind for sex and in the former kind for relationships and marriage. And maybe they are, but I don’t care to pretend to be one or the other in order to snag one.
I’d argue that most women, if they’ve had a chance to live their lives to the fullest, embody both these characters, or they can and want to. This doesn’t mean they’re two faced. This means that they can be both that hot assertive woman that you want to fuck AND that wholesome woman that you marry and have children with. And it takes a special kind of person to bring both energies out in you. Though there is still so much bullshit and stigma around this in society, that more often than not, I see women pretend to be the prude in order to land a ring on their finger and get a stable/secure life, but then they wind up having affairs with men who will make them feel sexy.
Having partly left the sex-party/poly/etc. scene, I’m kind of experiencing the same problem myself. I don’t want to go back into the scene (at least not to extent that I have before) because I know I won’t be able to form serious, committed relationships with men there. While at the same time, if I throw myself headfirst back into the vanilla world, then I might not be able to be honest about who I am, or what I’ve been through, and I can’t deal with lies and deceit in relationships.
Dan Savage, who is, in my opinion, the greatest and funniest sex advice columnist of all time, said it best when someone wrote to him saying, “What does it mean that I prefer strong, aggressive women for hook ups and one-night-whatevs but usually end up in relationships with shy, passive girls?”
Dan answered the question by saying that this is the typical Madonna/whore complex, heteronormative bullshit that he doesn’t get about straight men. That they need to reconcile this idea of “the two women” in their heads and that there are women out there who can both get your dick hard AND raise your children. My favorite quote from that exchange: “You should be able to put her up on the pedestal and then, every once in a while, drag her off that pedestal and fuck the shit out of her, and then put her right back on that pedestal. And she should be able to do the same for you.”
At least I know now that I’m not Annette or Katherine, or Anna Karenina or Therese Raquin or O (also, I realize I have delusions of grandeur). I’m myself and won’t settle for anything less than being loved, appreciated and respected for all the parts of me. And, truth will always be stranger than fiction.