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The Tale of the Long-Running Milonguera

She wore a black dress.

She was past a certain age.

She worked hard at her appearance.

Have we not all known this woman? This everymilonguera? Slim, coiffed, stylish on one hand, but aging, dumpy, and weary on the other? Been to Buenos Aires, but not a particularly good dancer? Is she not present at every milonga we have ever attended?

And why am I simultaneously fascinated by and allergic to her?

My everymilonguera had dyed ginger hair, sharp black-framed glasses (because this was New York), fishnet stockings, and drear sensible Comme il Fauts in a modest heel height. She was an ex-New Yorker visiting from Idaho, where she now lived. Apparently they really do have people in Idaho, and not just Napoleon Dynamite. She was friendly, open, and kind, but she also bore a whiff of that grim determination we have all had, many times, that is so off-putting. That, “I'm going to dance, damn it,” air that would be so easily dispelled by some suitable fellow coming along and capturing the treasure of our hand for ten to twelve minutes.

“You're just sitting,” she said. “Have you just come to watch?”

“Eventually I'm going to dance with that guy there,” I said. “And maybe that one over there. And that's it.” —That there were even two men with whom I wanted to dance impressed me, but then, it was an anniversary party with live music and the huge ballroom was packed.

“Oh, you're picky. I'm not picky. I just want to dance. I just want to be held. Sometimes you just need that.”

I understood.

“You know, there are a bunch of cute guys here, though, if you felt like....”

I said, no thank you, I had sufficiently notched my bed-post and I was done.

She said she was exactly the same way. Her bed-post was full. She had slept with enough milongueros to last a lifetime, and she wondered, if all Argentinians were the way her milongueros had been, just looking to get laid and that's it, and more keenly, if there were women out there stupid enough to think it could ever lead to anything more.

I paused for station identification.

“They all start out with beautiful manners, and treat you beautifully, and then as soon as they've had sex with you, they turn into jerks,” she said. “I had one who did turn into something more, but he turned into a jerk too.”

The one who turned into something more did not know how to dance (there may be a connection), but he was a porteño whom she met in BA. And he was incredibly sweet and polite and gallant, chivalrous and gentlemanly, and even brought her to his mother's house to introduce her in an incredibly short period of time. They seemed to be having a Real Relationship.

She went back to Idaho (I'm sorry, I just cannot not say it in italics) and shortly thereafter he flew all the way there to visit her for her 50th birthday. They had a lovely time...or at least, it started out as a lovely time.

Eventually she realized, he just wanted a green card.

I can't judge too harshly. I've been to Argentina. I can't imagine living there year round! It's a fucking mess! It's a hornet's nest of huge hairy problems, and here, we are not talking about “first-world problems” any more, Dorothy. As an old porteño friend said to me, “our country is like Africa but with beautiful buildings.” Sometimes I think that, much as the most authentically New Yorkerish place you can live is the Sixth Borough (i.e., the entire rest of the world) the most porteño place you can possibly live is...not Buenos Aires. I am not going to throw the first stone.

But still, hurt feelings leave traces on our faces and I saw many traces on the everymilonguera's face. I saw someone who could use a little help from the “stop looking for love from men and start finding it in yourself” fairy, who bestows her gifts at the most unexpected and unsummonable of times.

And then she revealed just how much of an everymilonguera she was: she was an Other Woman! She had been in love with the same guy for thirty years and had foolishly turned him down when they were 20, and he'd never let her forget it, and now he was married to somebody else (“but she is only interested in financial security, she doesn't want love; me, I want love,” the milonguera was quick to point out) and had been for a long time. She had been having an affair with him for years and years and she wished he would have a talk with his wife about becoming openly polygamous, but he was—in her opinion—too scared to do it, and he wouldn't leave his wife for her either.

How dreary. No wonder she looked tired. No wonder I saw hurt behind the makeup.

Unfortunately the only way out of the forest is to take the path straight through it, all the way, and you can't skip steps. We feel the way we feel and need what we need until one day we wake up and we don't feel that way any more, and we need something else. We immerse ourselves in whatever it is that's calling to us and pour our attention into whatever situation is attracting our attention, and it doesn't matter how hard and unhappy it might be, we just have to do it, and do it, and do it...and then one day enough is enough and we go do something else. But we can't get there until we're there.

And once we're there, we can't go back.

People have been asking me when I'm going out to a milonga again. I have two answers:

  1. When I return to Buenos Aires. And, other than that:
  2. Never. 

I was once one of the most ubiquitous faces in the San Francisco tango scene. I was fucking everywhere, man. Everybody knew me. Even people I didn't know knew me. I was locally famous. I was an It Girl. And that was what I needed, for as long as I needed it.

But then one day I was full, overfull, stuffed, and sick from too much unhealthy food.

So I stepped away from the table. And I can't help but notice how much happier, healthier, and more secure and loved I feel this way. Do I miss milongas? Of course I do! I miss el Beso and Porteño Bailarín and Salon Canning! But the ones here...I just feel relief, like I'd finally forced myself awake out of some long-running and incredibly expensive nightmare. I feel like I'd been stuffing myself with sweets and nothing but sweets for so long I had forgotten there was any other kind of food out there, and then once I got jolted awake and life pointed out to me that actually, I do not have to grow up to become Everymilonguera, and in fact there's a whole world of nutritious, delicious food out there that makes me feel good, not sick, afterward, and...incredibly enough...contributes to my health and well-being!

I went to that milonga to hear a great musician play, and he was indeed great. And I was happy to dance with my porteño. It was a positive experience. But I could do this because I was a stranger in those parts, with no history with anyone there. If it had cost more, if there had been no porteños, and if I hadn't still been on California time, I wouldn't have gone.

After a while my everymilonguera got up and said, “ok, that's enough talking: if we sit here we're never going to dance. Let's get up and walk around. But I'm not going to stand next to you. You're too hot. If I stand next to you no one will ever ask me.” And she set her mouth grimly and set off on the hunt, and I reflected on the sad truth of her words. She had voiced what every milonguera knows. There's a brutal jungle law out there that says the women cannot travel in packs, and that even though it should be what's inside that counts, it tragically isn't. Especially for milongueras...which is why every one of them thinks they're fat (even the most emaciated), most of them dye their hair, and makeup and push-up bras and thongs and God knows what else abound.

Just the fact that she had said that made me want to leave, because it reminded me of everything I had left behind in my new post-milonga phase. I came out of the forest and found light on the other side, but you are still in the dark middle of it, I thought, sadly.

She saw me briefly a couple of hours later, and she was sweaty from having danced a lot, but nothing had erased the weary need in her face. Her endorphins flowed freely but her heart was no lighter than it had been before. I wanted to suggest to her that she join a bridge club or something.

This world of nutritious food that's out there outside of the dessert not nearly as exciting as tango. I'm still getting used to it. But on the other's not nearly as exciting as tango! It turns out that maintaining a stable emotional blood sugar feels a lot simpler and is more satisfying in the long run than the sugar rushes, empty calories, and sickness of making the world of tango one's entire social realm.

I feel like a rescued baby bird being taught how to eat off an eye-dropper. Try a little of this. Try a little of this. That one was too bland? That's ok, there's many other things to try, all of them nutritious and good for you! —It turns out that just refocussing my attention on the world outside of tango has transformed how I live in myself, such that when I met Everymilonguera, I clearly saw that how she was directing her energy was not making her happy and that I did not want that for myself. This is what happens when you live off a steady diet of cotton candy and jalapeño chocolate truffles, I thought. You fool your brain chemistry into barely noticing that you're starving to death.

Standing up, the Everymilonguera was tired, dowdy, small, and held herself like she didn't think much of herself and spent her life shielding a hurt little heart. No wonder her life unspooled as it did. But I know better than to say, “gee if you just change your posture your whole life will change,” althoug that is often true. I know that she could be beautiful, if only she weren't so emotionally malnourished!

I did not take her hand and lead her out of the milonga and say, “come with me to the museum tomorrow and we will look at beautiful art, and you will begin to learn to feel the love that sits inside you. And, bit by bit, you will blossom and be happy, because you won't be dehydrated for love. You'll know right where it is all the time, inside you, and then you will live a new life.” But...I wish I had.