Sometimes I think the highest compliment I can pay someone is not sleeping with them.
Sometimes I think I'm full of shit.
Women live in a world with men in it, and men live in a world with women in it, and every day we have to figure out what to do with this stymying information. Every day we know the right answer a little less.
The life we share with friends has freedoms that the life we share with lovers does not. We say what we're really thinking, come and go as we choose, and don't have to take the myriad little hurts and slights personally, because when you're friends that's just “their shit.” But when you're lovers, that's “our shit.” The life we share with lovers has ties that the life we share with friends does not. We let different people into different rooms in our hearts.
I used to believe that being lovers was the only authentic way men and women could relate to one another. Now I don't know. The difference between friends and lovers is the difference between freedom and belonging, and they're equally sacrosanct, and equally endangered. Freedom is, after all, “just another word for nothin' left to lose.” (Kris Kristofferson) And belonging is a permanent investment in a transitory state. We expect our friends to get their emotional support from different people in different degrees on different days. That's what's healthy. But for some irrational reason that we can't wish away, we expect our lovers to always feel exactly the same about us. Even though “lovers” is an excited electron state, inherently less sustainable than the more stable “friends” state. Lovers break up all the time—it's more newsworthy when they stay together. But friendships last, perhaps because they allow themselves to go through cycles.
I think the key to interspecies, er, intergender friendship is accepting the unspoken elephant in the room right away, so you can move on to the much more interesting business of being people together. “Hmm, I can't help but notice you're a man. I'll just keep that in the back of my head.” “Fancy that, I was just remarking to myself that you're a woman. I can't forget that fact.” Ok, noted. Now move on. It's true that men and women cannot be friends the way men and men or women and women can be friends. We're not wired that way. You meet someone, you like them, you have things in common, and you both display the basic biological requirements for ensuring the fit continuation of the species? Nature would have deeply fucked up if somewhere, in some deep dark secret corner of your surreptitious little minds, you didn't want to jump each others' bones. And she doesn't usually do that. But there's so much relief in being people together, that we can't get from being men and women together, that if someone is really worthwhile, we might choose to base our relationship on the freedom of friendship, rather than on the belonging of lovers. It's not that we're trying to sweep sex under the rug. It's that we're more interested in what lies beyond it. I'm me. You're you. Who are we?
Tango dilates that elusive moment of “who are we.” The space we dance in can be any number of emotional contexts, but I love it when it plays on the sweet spot between friends and lovers. That moment that in real life lasts a microsecond, but in this heightened reality, can last for ten minutes. In an alternating current kind of way, but if the current alternates quickly enough it feels the same as direct current.
The nicest thing about dancing on that very fine line between taking the step and not taking the step is that at the end of the tanda everybody can make a conscious democratic decision about which side of the line they want to fall on. It doesn't matter what happened (or didn't happen) during the dance—people at milongas are shockingly inobservant. When I made my début people told me, “everybody sees everything. No matter what you do, someone will catch it.” But I have a growing mountain of anecdotal evidence that suggests otherwise. There's nothing like a completely public space for conducting completely private matters—perhaps because when you're crammed between tons of other people doing the same thing, you're a needle in a haystack. And “private matters” are just that: private. They can have no sex in them at all; it's nobody's business if they do or don't. Friendship is as private a state as lovers, because it's unique to the two people who share it. You and I have a friendship that we will never have with anyone else, even though it may share characteristics of other friendships.
The same is true of lovers. And sometimes we do end up making a conscious democratic decision to fall on the other side of the line. “Uh, I dunno, it just happened,” is usually how we later explain these ratiocinative gyrations into the purportedly inevitable. I'm personally at a point in my life where my favourite moment in When Harry Met Sally is when they're in bed watching Casablanca together over the phone, each at home in their own apartment. But I reserve the right to change my mind.
Art is the selection and expansion of true moments into apotheotic proportions. But it is also the distillation of the huge and messy into the tiny and essential. Everything you need to know about life fits into Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, which is less than two feet square. A Shakespeare sonnet clocks in at 140 syllables. By comparison a whole tanda is an embarrassment of riches, a chance to say everything a thrillion times over and then some. Especially as everything that the couple needs to share is all shared in a single moment of embrace.
When I was 26 I believed that all men and all women belonged on the “lovers” side of the great divide and anything else was delusional folly. Now I think a degree of delusional folly exists in any kind of relationship. I have been known to care about and value some friends more than some lovers—does that mean I love them more?
Perhaps the difference can be seen in a friend's recent moment of consternation: she had accidentally left some books on her coffee table and a man had seen them. She was aflutter, even though, in theory, what's the big deal, they're just books. I told her letting people into our minds is more intimate than letting them into our bodies. —And once you've done it, you always think it shows and Everyone Can Tell.
But you can be squooshed all up against somebody else's business in front of other people, and be like, “what.” Not that that's nothing, but it's pretty common for men and women to fall romantically in love, and even more common for men and women to be so overwhelmed by desire for one another that they succumb to passion and...I can't even bother to finish this sentence because I'm so busy yawning. Eros is expected. Philos is unexpected.
We've got it all wrong. We need to reverse the usual hierarchy with which we order kinds of love. Often, especially in the world of women, we put friendship, philos, on the bottom, with the misconception that it's the easiest to come by and means the least. We put romance in the middle, and the consummation of all that romance, eros, the sexual relationship, goes at the pinnacle, the star that everyone's reaching for. But what if that triangle were inverted? Bodies are bodies. “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.” (one of those aforementioned Shakespeare sonnets) Mental connection doesn't come around all that often. Or better yet, what if there were no triangle at all, and each relationship was taken as its own discrete (and hopefully discreet) entity? No more categories, just living each moment as it comes. You have to take the present out of the box in order to play with it, after all.
Romance is not quite the same thing as that ayurvedic sweet spot we dance in. Romance is a vector, the pull of possibility. But when we dance, we dance the moment, whatever it encompasses. (And sometimes, yes, that moment encompasses mighty little other than boredom. Sometimes all of us are guilty of not being present with the other person. And sometimes all of us feel embarrassed for the other person, who is pouring out tsunamis of feeling while we remain bored, removed, and technical.) Dance slows down time. Daily life rushes by (or drags ad nauseum) and sometimes we long for something to grab us by the short and hairies and force us to pause, feel, be. Tango. The fusion of eros and philos, of the moment and of eternity. For eros is of the moment. But philos is forever.