Tsuru no Ongaeshi

On sex with strangers.

We met on Twitter. Two planets orbiting the same sun, imperceptibly easing into each other’s gravitational field. Then, there were the DMs, increasingly flirty in nature. She never used her real name, and, when she dropped her digits, she never used her real number — not with anyone, nor with me, not at first. She values her anonymity, so I’ll preserve it here.

She’s a bit older, but only nominally. We fly at the same altitude with respect to pop culture and life experiences, and we swim at the same depths of wit and wisdom. She’s successful, sexy and knows just how much of both she is. Importantly, she is not local nor single. She became curious when she learned about my, in her words, “appetite.”

One New Year’s Eve, we texted long past midnight, going from zero-to-60 in no time flat, then from 60-to-unsafe speeds at a rate rapidly approaching infinity. Within hours, we’d begun teasing each other with bold proclamations of what we’d do to each other should we ever find each other in the same city. Within days, she’d changed the back end of a business trip to call my bluff. We’d see each other in two weeks.

I remember the first time we talked on the phone, when she said she wanted to hear me, but not hear me speak. So I called one morning while she was at her office desk, she heard me, and said, merely, “baby.” I said “good morning” and hung up immediately. She returned the favor. She’d send me animated GIFs of various things she wanted: hair pulling, crawling on all fours across the cold floor, restraint, kink and violence.

We’d talk more frequently, often when she was traveling for work, at all hours, about all things: politics, music, day-to-day eccentricities, tales from our younger, rougher years. We mostly talked about sex. What made it good. What made it weird. And the weird things that made it good. We’d devolve into puddles, sinking into the concrete of our own insatiable yearning, then pull each other out, reanimating into fully functional adults with world concerns and particular whiskey tastes.

The night we met, she’d booked a hotel and put both our names [mine under a pseudonym] on the room. I was free to show up early, but when she arrived, she wanted me to leave briefly so she could get ready. I packed mints, condoms, sparkling and red wine, fernet branca, Xanax, edibles, cigarettes, gummy bears and mixed nuts (both her request), one of my t-shirts to change into (also her request), and dark chocolate. I arrived around 9 p.m. and stocked the room. She arrived around 10 p.m., and I left it.

I milled around the hotel bar, making small talk with a bartender who was told to smile by one of the more inebriated patrons. I told said patron that was a “dick move” and asked him to apologize. He asked me if I wanted to tell him that outside. My rudimentary combat skills and his decided size advantage led me to believe that was a bad idea, and so, not willing to die on a hill, I shrunk from my position and merely told him to be more polite next time. The bartender offered to buy me a drink, I told her some dad jokes, and she gave me her Instagram. I smiled. Then a text came through. “Okay, I’m ready.”

I took a glass elevator up nine floors to a room with a poor view from such a high perch, and knocked on the door. She opened and I stood face-to-face with her for the first time. She wore a choker and a black lace thing. A lightning bolt coursed through my body. We said hi, she welcomed me in, and I didn’t say another word that wasn’t a command or a come-on of some kind until the morning.

I don’t love writing about sex. I don’t even like reading about it. It’s often awkward, clumsy and clunky prose that’s either raunch for raunch’s sake or too floral to be taken seriously. But I do wish to tell you that we were relentless, and spent zero time over the course of 14 hours — aside from some three hours of sleep (I passed out from sheer exhaustion, she never slept) — not actively engaged with each other. We’d take intermittent minute-long breaks for fernet shots. I was careful not leave marks. I watched tears well in her eyes through her heavy sighs. She’d catch her breath after particularly intense moments, summoning an inner zen I’m not sure she realized she had until then. She woke me up the same way she put me to sleep. And that’s all the chum I’ll leave in the water for you about that.

The title of this piece is also the title of a Japanese folktale, about a crane, disguised as a woman, who secretly weaves cloth for a man she loved, who then sells it and makes him self rich in doing so. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship — the crane gets the satisfaction of giving herself to someone who appreciates it — and the man earns untold sums of money and enjoys the pleasure of her company. However, the tale has two endings depending on the version:

  • In one version, the woman becomes increasingly spinning cloth, and the man one day wakes to find a dead crane.
  • In another, the man snoops in and sees her spinning the cloth as a crane, causing her to fly away and never return.

When people ask me about my promiscuity, or my dating history, I often tell this tale. It’s how I love, and who I choose to give it to.

I have a thing for unavailable women, or, more crucially, unavailable women seem to have a thing for me: women who aren’t on either side of the half-your-age-plus-seven target demo, women who don’t live anywhere near me, women with rings, women who only like other women. For them, I seem to have carved out an odd lane for myself: as a service provider, who can swoop in and, in a pinch, approximate the boyfriend experience in whatever ways are deemed appropriate. We’ll talk breathlessly, fuck casually, flirt constantly — they get their cloth, I get satisfaction from giving it to them, and they never ask me how they get it. It’s a perfect arrangement. The tale about the gal from Twitter is the most glimmering and transparent example.

It’s also bizarrely instructive, because in the anxious and anticipatory days before its, *ahem,* climax, and in the alluring and astonishing hours spent at its apex (much better word, John), I realized I could spin cloth without making myself sick. I realized I learned — and, frankly, always knew — how to love without attachment. The barriers and boundaries between us, both in distance and emotional unavailability, allowed me to relax and not feel responsible for her happiness, nor look to her to be responsible for mine. This has been the case with almost all my casual relationships from the past; you could make a convincing case that I’m a far better and far more attractive romantic partner to women I can’t possibly be with than to the women I’ve actually seen seriously. In fact, I’ve made that case already.

My serious relationships, all monogamous and faithful, have always ended in emotionally unpleasant codependency. I would either ratchet up the intensity too high and overstep my boundaries when paired with an avoidant lover, (yup, we’re linking to this again), or — more often — I would instinctively seek out an anxious attacher because I grew up thinking this was how people showed you that they loved you. I’d always become the crane — growing increasingly ill or flying away when the other got too close. By analyzing my nights spent forging breathless, no-strings-attached connections with people, I began to realize that this was, in a peculiar way, how love should be. Two independent people who enjoy each other’s company, share things with each other, and safely maintain a sense of autonomy throughout the process of sinking into each other’s orbit — two planets orbiting the same sun together, instead of one planet crashing into another, leaving both damaged.

The encounter did nothing to diffuse the way we felt for each other. After we went our separate ways — her back to her boyfriend and I back to the office — we stayed dizzy and disoriented. Did that all just happen? What was this fever dream we just awoke from? We were Janelle Monae and Tessa Thompson, and we still are. We haven’t felt each other since, but we’ve heard each other, and our texts are as effortless and compelling as they were on night one, if nowhere near as breathlessly paced (and thank god for that, as we both have lives to lead and because boundaries). She constantly tells me I am more than this, that I deserve to find lasting happiness with an available woman, and I believe her — not because she tells me, but because I know it’s possible. We’ll see each other again — she’ll catch a flight and both of us will only catch the proper amount of feelings — and the sex will be dazzling and dizzying.

And, if she decides that’s it, or if I do, that’ll be just fine. The cloth doesn’t care who weaves it, or who it’s given to, and the crane isn’t sick anymore.

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