So this past week, my family was skiing in Mammoth ,which meant that come Saturday night, the only thing we were all up for was lying on the couch in front of the fire and watching a Lifetime Movie about the Craigslist Killer. While I never really followed the story when it was breaking, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by what everyone else has found so compelling. How could a guy like this lead a double life? A BU med student with a pretty fiance. But then again, maybe everyone has a secret life to some extent. I apologize for getting so existential but dating is all about getting to know someone who’s going to know you better than anyone else in the world. But how well do we ever really know anyone?
I think everyone to some degree has a secret life, especially when it comes to sex. Sexuality is incredibly complicated. Every day I seem to hear of a new sexual perversion – usually from a Law and Order SVU episode. But people everywhere seem to be into all kinds of crazy kinky things. The thing is, I’m tempted to say “I don’t know any of these people.” As in, I don’t know anyone that’s met up with someone for sex from Craigslist, nor have my friends complained about some boy wanting to take them to a sex club, nor have I ever thought about strangling someone since I had to take a self-defense class in college. But statistically, these things are occurring at a rate which implies that I do know such people – I just don’t know who they are. And if I know people or even am friends with people who like to meet up with strangers from the internet for sex, maybe the problem isn’t that everyone has secret lives, maybe the problem is we don’t talk about it enough?
The thing I get hung up on, is everyone, especially you’re average run of the mill man seems to have some sort of secret sexual fantasy life. We don’t punish people for thoughts so how angry can a woman really get at a man who has fantasized about another woman or even five women. The difference is some people act on it and some don’t. Theoretically though, there must be millions of men and women out there who have a secret sexual fantasy life. A life which they don’t share with anyone, and they never act on, they just think about. But in a relationship where you’re supposed to share everything, maybe it would be better if contrary to popular opinion, some didn’t share. If you’re married for forty years, it is completely unreasonable to expect that your mate is never fantasizing about sex with someone else. But at the same time, I really don’t want to know if my boyfriend is fantasizing about a friend of mine. It’s weird and gives me the heebeegeevies.
So where does that leave me? Clearly the Craigslist killer is on a whole other level in regards to perversion but I just can’t stop thinking about his poor fiance. This idea that we think we can know someone so completely that we know them better than ourselves might be a complete fallacy. Granted if your boyfriend is out in the middle of night killing and robbing hookers, you’d think there would be a sign. But before he started acting on these impulses, how different was he from any other guy in a relationship secretly looking at porn or fantasizing about a Spring Break ménage à trois. And how sure can you ever be that that guy is not your own boyfriend?
A friend of mine a little while back told me about how her boyfriend of a year finally confessed his interest in some naughty sexual vices and she came running to me all freaked out about it. The thing is, on the scale of perversions I’ve heard of (which is limited to what is printable in the New York Times), this was probably a level 3 on a 10 point scale. Weird but not that weird. So she’s complaining about how betrayed she feels and how she feels like she doesn’t even know him. But I’m thinking, she probably knows him better than anyone else she’s ever had sex with because he actually told her the truth. I asked her if she confessed all of her erotic reveries to him, including fleeting thoughts of Jake Gyllenhaal. She said no and that she never would tell him because she didn’t want to hurt him. So whose fantasy is better? It seems like he should get the award because he tells her and his at least includes his girlfriend. Hers doesn’t want him anywhere near it.
So all of this leaves me perplexed. How well can we ever really know the person we’re in a relationship with? And are we really better off knowing all?
Maybe we should just acknowledge we all have secret lives. It’s as though the sexual mores of the past still govern how we communicate about sex but not the act itself. It wasn’t that long ago when everything about sex was secret – what it was, who did it, when they did it, what it was like. In the past, everything about sex was secret so naturally sexual fantasies and thoughts were kept completely secret. No one was supposed to talk about any of these things, so most people probably thought that whatever they were thinking was normal. But during the sexual revolution not that long ago, sex became public. We can see it everywhere, we talk to children about it, we know who’s doing it. But while the act entered society in a way we understand, the thoughts and motivations that go along with the act got left behind. We have no idea what other people’s sexual thoughts are like and we’re too afraid to ask. But maybe this is the way it’s supposed to be. Maybe we will not be served by everyone expressing their feelings in this instance and causing each other’s skin to crawl. Maybe the ultimate knowing someone in a relationship is knowing when to let him keep his secrets.