The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

I want a lover, not a boyfriend


I’m 39, single, easy on the eyes, easy to get along with and good in bed. And I can’t get laid.

How is that possible? Well, for starters, despite the fact that I use words like “laid” and reject the conventional wisdom that says female sexuality is best muted and monitored, I believe sex is metaphysical and elemental. An exchange of energies and all that. Which means casual sex in the Tinder sense doesn’t work for me. I have no desire to see disappointment on my gynecologist’s face when my Pap comes back abnormal.

I want a lover.

I’m not looking for a “boyfriend” or a “husband.” I want a lover. I want to have consistently good sex with someone I like and respect, who likes and respects me, without the trappings of domesticity. That might change. Might not. But in this moment of my life, when I’m juggling projects and co-parenting, I simply want good sex on a regular basis with a side of good conversation, the occasional out-of-bed adventure and special-occasion date.

This has proven more difficult to find than you might think.

I have a few theories on this, the foremost being that most men simply do not believe women have the ability to compartmentalize sex. We can. It is possible for us to have sex without falling deeply, stupidly in love. And those of us who really enjoy sex, who consider it a meditative exercise when done right, we definitely can compartmentalize sex.

But it takes two. Despite my best efforts to communicate clearly about what I’m looking for, the men I’ve chosen as lovers start to feel some type of way. Suddenly sex is no longer enough. They think they want more — until they realize a woman who wants a lover is not going to play by the same rules as a woman looking for a more domestic arrangement.

I’ve polled my council of platonic male friends on the matter, and their consensus is it’s all about control. After a certain age, a man gets used to being pursued, especially if he’s a good catch. So the notion that a single woman, also of a certain age, is uninterested in locking him down is foreign — and intriguing. Until it becomes frustrating. And annoying. And then the bed peace we’ve created is gone.

This scenario has played out twice since I’ve been looking for a lover. Both times with men I would have sworn had player hearts of ice. We meet. We mingle. We agree that the occasional roll in the sack would be delightful. A month later, we’re fighting about who texted whom last and whether emoji count as adult communication. I’m no innocent in those bad romances. Good sex clouded my mind, made me forget why I chose whom I chose. So when they pushed with more, I went with it despite knowing that I lacked the time, energy or inclination to maintain a committed relationship. Good sex and a happy relationship aren’t synonymous. It took me two times to learn that lesson.

So I’m going on dates with men whom I like and respect who like and respect me back, a few whom I’d really like to see naked … and nothing. Great dates, lots of laughing, drinking, dancing — all the things that you might think would result in a nightcap of nookie, and I’m lucky if I get a good-night kiss.

I’ve gone back to my board of male advisers, because this is definitely not how I imagined post-divorce life. “Baby girl,” one began as he shook his head in amusement, “They’re nice guys; they are going to take it slow because they like and respect you. You’re going to have to make the move.”

Except I’m gun-shy about making moves. And to be honest, I’m not sure what move I want to make. Being direct hasn’t served me well. “No man trusts it when a woman says let’s keep it casual,” said another homeboy. Neither has going with the flow. “Men are people, too,” a third told me, “no one likes feeling used.”

My mistake in the past, I think, was to couch the conversation in seduction. I was upfront about what I was looking for — in between sexts about when and where and how. But what man is listening and processing when thinking of sex?

The alternative is to take a more formal approach: “Here’s what I’m looking for from the relationship. Text “yes” or “no” if you agree. Or should I say nothing and let ignored calls and texts set the tone?

That’s what I can’t wrap my head around: How do you keep a sexual relationship light and compartmentalized without someone feeling used in the end? Is it even possible? Is the notion of a “lover,” as in sunny afternoons spent making love and harboring little expectations beyond that, a fantasy?

I grapple with these questions. Pondering them occupies more of my time than it should. I’m 39, single, easy on the eyes, easy to get along with and good in bed. And I can’t get laid.


My year without sex

What is it like to date while blind?

I tell men I don’t want commitment. They don’t believe me.