Two female friends wrote to me recently, deploring the mutual bafflement that was coming between themselves and their boyfriends. One of them was French with an Englishman and the other, English with a Frenchman.
“It’s good to notice that even a British women has come across the problem of repressed English boys!” wrote La Francaise. For I had guessed at what she was going through, having experienced it myself: she was fed up with not feeling sufficiently desired and was appalled by the fact that he seemed to prefer a night out drinking with his friends than a night in bed with her.
The Englishwoman, of course, was suffering from the opposite. What would she not give for a night out with the girls? Her problem was not her man’s sexual repression, but his persistent tendency to sexualise everything. Beyond the first flush, his refusal to let her develop beyond the sex slave and their relationship beyond a parody of 9½ Weeks, was suffocating her. She felt, she said, like a character in a film he was directing: “It was as if he had the script in his head and I kept wandering from it and disappointing him.” In his keenness to fan the flames by acting out his idea of the love affair, he was actually snuffing out her desire for him.
For this is a reconstructed woman, he’s dealing with, who will resist submission and infantalisation, both by-products of what he sees as vital components of the sexy woman. She is used to contractual relations between men and women and the hard, brittle, intellectual tussle that they bring. And so she will call it a day, choosing the need for autonomy over the ‘ecstasy of submission’ (as Finkielkraut calls it).
My French friend, on the other hand, knows that she is not sacrificing her intrinsic autonomy by submitting to the rules of the Game of Love. As long as she is with Englishmen she will continue to miss the playful, erotically charged, wilfully mindless games-playing of L’amour a la francaise. Keep contractual relations out of the bedroom, says she, for therein lies the secret of erotic longevity. Play the game and preserve the mystere that Catholic societies have ever sworn by to keep the faith.