One afternoon at a YMCA pool I noticed a woman stretching at the head of the next lane, preparing to swim. Forty-four myself and increasingly nearsighted, I got the sense she had a nice, simple, woman’s figure, neither large nor small, curving modestly in the appropriate places. Above all I appreciated the paleness of her skin, which offered a gentle counterpoint to the relentless exercising, the fluorescence and chlorinated water.
I go to the Y for physical exercise and to relax. I live with a woman in a reasonable approximation of connubial bliss. I belong to that class and generation of men who have been trained to think primal male desire reprehensible, if not criminal; we try even to suppress our curiosity so as not to make women feel uncomfortable or lead them to think that we lack manners, self-control or basic feminist training. Still, at least in my case, there remains a need for periodic confirmation of my seductive appeal. And I try not to overlook the wonders of female beauty—of femaleness and of otherness. And it so happens that without my glasses I find women significantly better looking, and I tend to stare and push my head forward, trying to see more and presenting myself to them. (Imagine a piece of cake pushed to the front of a cafeteria shelf).
At the pool—the woman and I were both now swimming, and I snatched yet another glance as our bodies passed in the water—I had the sense that I had made her uncomfortable. “Women must get tired of putting up with this stuff,” I thought. Later, when I was doing my stretching and abdominal exercises just outside the pool, near the end of her lane, I had the sense that I was being a bit of an exhibitionist. I remembered—13 years old?—sharing a hotel room with my older sister, parading around after my shower, unsuccessfully trying to get her to take an interest in the wonder of my penis.
But as I was remembering and—mainly—doing my exercising, I also had a sense that this woman in the pool was occasionally glancing my way; she was trying to encourage my interest. At one point she stopped at the other end of the pool and repeated the stretch that had first caught my eye: her hands linked high over her head, her chest rising as she pushed upwards. As I began leaving, she hopped out of the water and fetched her towel and plastic sandals. We headed toward the stairs more or less side by side, she looking at me with eyes wide and face upturned, as if long ago she had learned how much men like to be admired.
My own exercises had included one “downward-facing dog,” a basic yoga pose, and now she said, “Where did you learn to do yoga?” Given my evident facility, her tone suggested, I must have studied with some very great man.
In fact, this dog was about all the yoga I knew, but a conversation was under way, and soon she was telling me that she was taking yoga there at the Y, on Saturday mornings, with “Jennifer”.
It would be easy enough to decide that I used this woman for my seduction fix, that even if the disappointment this woman felt when I did not appear in Jennifer’s class that Saturday was ever so minuscule, still it outweighed the lift offered by my passing interest and admiration that day at the pool. I might also stress the disappointment I later felt—disappointment in my orderly, convention-ruled self, which once again dared not pursue or embrace the wonders of life. At the time, as I took my shower with the rest of the men, though I knew I wouldn’t be at that yoga class, I felt happy to have been invited and to have reached the point where I could appreciate that this was a woman’s invitation.