When in your 50s, you come across a picture of yourself at 20, it takes your breath away, doesn’t it? It shocks you with absence—the lack of pouches beneath the eyes, the scarcity of frown lines—there’s such fullness, so much creamy peachiness.

Who is this ethereal beauty? This fawn? It cannot be me. And, of course, it isn’t. For I am someone else now, looking across time at a kind of stranger.

Where did my fat ass go? The horribly imperfect nose I used to obsess over?

Why didn’t I see this when I looked into the mirror then? Why didn’t I identify myself as this vision? Why did I waste all that time punishing myself?

Of course, she was not me. She did not have the benefit of all the mistakes this person that defines me now has made, the accumulation of errors and corrections we call wisdom.

If you’re like me, you might think: “Wouldn’t it be great to look like that and know what I know now?”  Movies have been made about this theme.

But let us count our blessings. Let us be reminded of homilies—When one door closes, another one opens; the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

What is given? What is taken away?

For one thing, fucks are taken away—I mean the kind of fucks alluded to in “I don’t give a fuck.”

Hopefully, as we age, we give fewer of them about what other people think.  

While in my experience, the desire to fit in and be liked doesn’t carry the clout it had when I was younger. 

On the other hand, we may have more space and maybe more compassion, which includes space and compassion for ourselves.

the desire to fit in and be liked doesn’t carry the clout it had when I was younger. 

And with that space we can discover and try out new things—maybe things we’ve never before considered, maybe things we’ve considered and discarded.

Which is part of the reason I recently found myself participating in kink parties. 

The other part of the reason is my adorable friend, Isabelle, several years younger than me; the first person I ever saw trussed in ropes, at Burning Man. One of her activities is running a kink summer camp for adults.

I spoke to her about her beautiful, workable, polyamorous marriage.

“Don’t you ever get jealous?” I asked.

“If I get jealous, that would mean there was a huge breakdown way before he started seeing this person I was now jealous of,” she said. “If I were feeling jealous it would indicate I had a concern that he still wanted me or that I wasn’t being myself. I am the only Me and the expert at being me. If he wants me, there’s nowhere else to get that. If he doesn’t want me then we have that to look at. Not this woman or his interest in her.”

At the first party my spouse and I attended in a loft in the East Bay, at the time I was 75. I stood around a big kitchen table with a diverse group of people—of all genders, orientations, and power positions within their kink —eating cookies and veggies with dips, wearing jeans and t-shirts, sweaters and leggings, dressed for a neighborhood potluck.

I sidled up to my friend and whispered, “Is it okay if I just watch? Will it make people uncomfortable?”

(Everything written in italics is Isabelle’s commentary.)

“Probably not. Use your judgment. And, if there are things you want to know about what people were doing, ask them when they’re finished.”

Near the window was a tall Saint Andrew’s cross, shaped like a big X. There was furniture to lean over when getting spanked. A clothes rack held a curated assortment of floggers, whips, and cats-o-nine tails. The soccer parent outfits were shed, revealing corsets and harnesses, sheer lingerie, and skin.

There’s the fantasy of kink and then there’s the reality.

100 million people read “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

“Many people have said it might have been more authentic if it wasn’t about a sociopathic narcissist and an irresponsible twit. My impression of it was it was about two people with major issues using kink in  very damaging ways, including gaslighting and manipulation.”

“There’s the fantasy of kink and then there’s the reality. Most people think of kink as requiring some kind of power exchange, some kind of power dynamic that is consensually negotiated. Like–this is the leader, this is the follower.  But, in reality, particularly in a long-term relationship, it can’t always look the same way, because what you get then is one person making all the decisions and the other, ultimately, resenting that person for the ones they did wrong. Then you end up with a version of a bad 1950’s marriage, a version of something that used to be the default setting for most marriages. That’s a very small subset of the kink community.

“Almost anything one does with kink is negotiated and consensual. And, let’s assume that all good relationships should be consensually negotiated—like buying a home or investing money.  It doesn’t mean that crappy things don’t happen in kink communities, too. I just think we’re more set up for having good relationships, in general because of that habit.

At my second party, having done much observing, I asked Isabelle’s husband if he would flog me.  

“Two different people could want the same activity—let’s say spanking—but for different reasons and with different responses. One could get into it for punishment, for experiencing being wrong and bad but in a safe container. Another could be into it for pure sensation with no dominance and submission included at all. It’s useful to know what’s behind the desire.”

I leaned up against the St. Andrew’s cross and breathed into it.  
We negotiated how I wanted to be met by the flogger.  
Its fine, glove-like leather was very giving, very soft.  
Faster or slower?
Consent.
My skin stung.
Consent.
Less? More?
Consent.
Calm.
Meditative.
Centered.

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