The bus depot clerk lazily processed my bus ticket. Her lack of enthusiasm confirmed my low assessment of her in general. She had made my elderly aunt and I stand outside in the freezing weather well passed the business hour. I tried to shrug off my annoyance. She’s maybe just out of high school. Give her time to learn how respect and social graces will be the grease that gets her out of menial, low-paying jobs, I thought. But then, something else reversed my attempt at compassion.
In spite of the cold room, she had dressed to show off an asset she seemed most proud of. Her tits. The D cups were barely contained in the clinging top. There they were, a neon sign that beckoned attention. As she leaned over the counter I waited in anticipation of her suffering an embarrassing accident – an escape of fat mammary glands. I could hear a horn blasting away and someone announcing, “Mammary overboard, mammary overboard.” I managed to contain my smirk and I don’t think I rolled my eyes.
In the two minutes of doing ‘business’ with this little princess, it occurred to me that she is just hoping to measure up to her generation’s criteria of being sexy, cool, disdainful of adults, and attractive to, um …. I don’t know, certainly to some pervert? Does she know she’s missing the best part of sex – the romance that precedes the home run. I’m referring to the passion that involves no kissing or groping, no overt body gyrations or dirty talk. And, there’s no need for exposed body parts.
Today, the mission in romance novels and real life seems to be ramp up the hormones and fuck. You can get pills to help with that now in case you’re feeling your, um, sex drive is less than what you read about in the latest novel. Our romance writers are guilty of fast tracking the reader to erotic paragraphs for several pages. Perhaps, people find romance (in novels and real life) too slow, too risky and plagued with too few short term benefits. In for the thrill. Sexual tension has been replaced with something less exciting – just fucking.
When did romance die? Why do writers skip the most powerful and erotic tool – true romance. And, why does every relationship need to end up in a steamy sex scene? Frankly, my imagination is better than any author’s idea of passion between the sheets. I get bored with erotic novels. Romance novels, particularly formulaic plots are so dull and predictable the novel gets pitched.
Romance, the nuance of energy that electrifies subtle phrases, a glance, the comfortable silence, the accidental touch, the synchronicity of ideas and reassessing of values. It’s feeling the presence of the other without being in the same room. It’s the slow and steady inviting of someone into your soul without giving up any part of who you are, or pretending to be someone you’re not.
My favorite romance novel or film is saturated with characters exposing not their body, but their secret fears and dreams to someone who is frustratingly captivating. Their connection is grudgingly faced, fought against, and simultaneously yearned for. There is an internal war, a conflict of reassessing goals. The writer carefully sets a pace of inviting the reader to see the possibilities of success and failure, and most of all, the risk.The tempo is tenuous and slow. Aggravatingly slow. Beautifully alluring. There’s a temptation, a promise, a hope of the characters overcoming barriers, real or imagined. The tension mounts. The loss or failure is too devastating to accept.
There is the glance, a sudden awakening, a rush of passion beyond any hormonal limitation. And, most of all, it’s unforgettable. It’s romance that has trumped sex.
In my upcoming novel, Forbidden, there’s continuous sexual tension. Below is one of the scenes I love. It’s filled with romance without a hint of sexual activity.
Excerpt from FORBIDDEN (scene location is a hotel room; police captain Sharif has returned from spending two grueling days sabotaging the CIA agent’s attempts to unravel his lies; he’s dressed in only his prayer robe, and she’s dressed in her fake police uniform)
Eliza motioned to the end of the first bed. “Sit down, captain.”
Grateful she referred to him by his rank, Sharif’s apprehension faded. Without given any thought to her instructions, he sat down. To his surprise, she pulled up a chair and sat facing him. A squeeze bottle lay in her lap.
“Give me your foot, captain.” She leaned down and began to lift his bare left foot up to her knees.
He started to resist.
“Strictly medicinal, captain.”
Eliza squeezed a dab of gel onto his feet. He caught the fragrance of mint as her fingers began to spread the slippery solution from his toes to his ankle. Her firm strokes encouraged the release of tension in his feet. She worked on each toe, flexing and extending each joint.
He resisted the urge to submit to the massage’s relaxing effect. The rare comfort soothed his aching body, and more. And yet, he needed to appear unaffected. “You’re trained in this art?”
“I know things.”
“Yes, a paramedic. But this is ….”
She interrupted. “Not just a paramedic. I have certain abilities, a seer, I pay attention to my intuition.”
He tried to process her statement. “So, I guess you don’t hate me. About the drugging and everything.”
Eliza stopped her ministrations. Her eyes met his. “Omar explained a few things about the stress you’ve been under. You haven’t had any time off for over a month. Probably because of me.” She returned to the massaging. “Working that hard can make anyone stupid, temporarily, I hope. Consider yourself on probation.” She glanced up and smiled.
He smiled. “That’s kind of you.”
“You’d be more comfortable if you’d lie down. Shimmy up to the pillow and lie down. Make yourself comfortable.”
“Eliza, I mean, Miss MacKay, this is not ….”
“Suit yourself,” she said as if it didn’t matter to her.
Reluctantly Sharif did as she suggested. He grabbed the pillow and pushed it under his head. He should be watching, guarding, or something appropriate as a police captain and a devout Muslim man. As her hands worked their magic on his feet, his thoughts floated into oblivion. By the time her hands moved to his leg’s calf, all thoughts of resistance deserted him. He restrained a deep moan as his foot was wrapped in a warm towel. Then the other foot received her attention. His attempts to remain conscious dissolved.