Copyright is held by the author.
“HOW LONG do you think that relationship is going to last — maybe a week?” Benjamin asked his girlfriend, Melanie, after she had told him that her roommate, Lilith, had just begun an amorous association with an old friend, who seemed, at least to them, a very unlikely choice for her. Gabriel did spend a huge amount of time around Lilith, always had, but that they would turn into lovers had never entered the minds of either Melanie or Benjamin. And, in fact, as the story goes, the two new partners had not even considered it themselves.
Let’s get some background first. Lilith was a young musician of 23, practicing her flute tirelessly, at least five hours a day, and teaching — mostly teenagers — the rest of the day, after having finished her music degree and performing exceedingly well at her graduation recital at the university. Her goal was to become an orchestral musician. Everyone around her was very hopeful and positive about her prospects. There were several flutists, in various North American cities, not to mention European ones, who were on the brink of retirement. This boded quite well for her. She was not frightened in the least by auditions.
What did Gabriel and Lilith have in common? Well, Gabriel had recently begun to study classical guitar. On the weekends, Lilith often played Baroque music with some excellent guitarists newly-arrived from Europe. They had come to study with a rather famous South American who was teaching at the university. One of these musical friends had been persuaded to teach Gabriel, who, as it happened, had become inspired by the creative Sunday get-togethers in Lilith’s apartment. He was doing quite well. Lilith played with a host of other musicians and vocalists, and quite regularly, with a pianist. Gabriel and Lilith and their friends often went to concerts together, and listened to music at home together. But Benjamin and Melanie, who also participated in these events, were convinced that Lilith pursued these activities out of genuine love. They did not quite believe that the passion was there inside Gabriel. He was enjoying himself, but music was not his life. Perhaps what flummoxed Benjamin and Melanie the most was that Gabriel did not seem all that passionate about anything. He and Lilith were just so very different, although that hadn’t stopped their friendship.
Gabriel had been engaged to be married to a girl until about six months before he and Lilith took up with each other. He had put off the wedding so many times that eventually the liaison dissolved. During the entire time of his courtship and proposal and whatever it was that ensued in the almost two years afterwards, he and Lilith remained friends and never gave up each other’s company, although his paramour was none too happy about this. Why should she have been? When he was seeing Lilith, he was not seeing her.
Into this mix of friends and couples there arrived another duo. The male of this one was an even older friend of Lilith’s. He had gone to live abroad and eventually had got married. They decided to live in Ariel’s hometown, and so he came first to find a job and an apartment. He immediately renewed his friendship with Lilith, and rented the apartment upstairs from her, for himself and his wife. While Ariel was waiting for his beloved to arrive, he engaged in multiple sexual escapades with various friends of Lilith, much to her chagrin. He professed love for his bride, but they had opted for an open relationship. It drove Lilith crazy, but she promised Ariel, out of loyalty, that she would do her utmost to be a good friend to Nell once she landed in town. It actually wasn’t difficult at all for Lilith to do this. She liked Nell immensely. She was beginning to like Ariel less and less.
This is what happened on the night that everything changed for Gabriel and Lilith. Melanie was a schoolteacher, Benjamin an aviation engineer, who worked at the airport. He often came to dinner on Friday night, and then remained for the rest of the weekend. For convenience sake he lived near the airport. On this particular Friday night, Gabriel, Ariel, and Nell were also invited. Melanie and Lilith were preparing the dinner together, when the phone rang. It was Benjamin asking whether he could bring two colleagues along with him. He and the two women had gone out to the pub after work, and he thought that it would be a nice idea to invite them as well. Lilith and Melanie had no objections. Of course, they did not have a table that could seat eight people, so they would have to be willing to sit on pillows on the floor with a big sheet in the middle, acting as a table. No one seemed to be put off by this suggestion.
The evening went quite well. The two women, who were also slightly inebriated upon arrival, conversed comfortably with everyone around them. The food was good and so was the wine. During the dessert portion of the meal, the conversation became focussed on Ariel’s wife, her country of origin, her adaptability to new surroundings, and especially on how she got along when Ariel had left her alone to seek his fortune back home. At one point, alluding to the fact that she and Ariel believed in an open marriage, she remarked, with a broad smile on her face, that while her husband was gone, one of their male friends had taken very good care of her, indeed. Ariel’s face reddened immediately, and the smile on his lips grew rather forced, if not downright sickly.
Perhaps no one else noticed the change in Ariel’s demeanour, but Lilith knew him extremely well, and could tell that this was the first time he had heard about his friend’s good care of his wife. She was almost sure that Ariel had not breathed a word about his own extra-marital dipping. Clearly, open marriage was only supposed to be experienced by him. The fact that his wife had also engaged in enticing someone else into her bed had not been something Ariel had anticipated.
Within a quarter of an hour, that couple got up to leave. In no time, a lively discussion about the concept of open marriage was underway among the six remaining people. It should not be astonishing to learn that not one of them saw the value in open marriage. It seemed to cause only distress. “Even if, in theory,” declared Benjamin, “there may be something to be said for such a concept, humans, myself included,” and here he touched Melanie’s arm in solidarity, “are not ready for sexual sharing. Perhaps we are not evolved enough,” he added.
“I, for one, am not sure if humans will ever be ready for such a notion. It’s all very well in the abstract, but in reality, we can only interpret the taking on of another lover by our partner as a diminishing of his love for us,” remarked one of Benjamin’s associates. When Lilith was asked to comment, she offered this conclusion: “Ariel and Nell seemed very unhappy when they left. They acted on an intellectual decision and now they will pay the price in emotional pain.” She did not end with the thought that perhaps their marriage would not be able to handle the infidelity, although agreed upon in advance. But her unexpressed prognosis proved accurate.
The other co-worker, who happened to be French, wanted to know how long Benjamin and Melanie had been a couple. “Four months,” Melanie answered. Benjamin then talked about how they had met. Since it was a rather funny story, the seriousness of the previous conversation melted away in their laughter. The dinner was wrapping up, but before the new guests and Benjamin were to take their leave, for Benjamin had promised to drive the women home, his French acquaintance turned to Lilith and Gabriel and uttered this sincere but rather stunning pronouncement: “Benjamin and Melanie may only be together four months, but you two have surely been together for much longer than that.”
It was not exactly a bomb that had exploded in their midst, but the others were quite taken aback. Perhaps it was Lilith, perhaps Gabriel, or maybe even both of them, who stammered out that, in reality, they were only friends, and had never been anything but friends. Benjamin and Melanie laughed nervously. Truth be told, it was the advocate for romance herself that was the most shocked. “No, no, no, that is not possible. You are a couple. There is no doubt that you are a couple.” She paused here a moment and then blurted out, “At least you should be. What are you waiting for? You are meant to be together.” On the doorstep, as she was leaving, she reiterated this thought. “Don’t waste another moment.”
That night, Melanie went along with Benjamin to spend the night at his house. Gabriel said he would stay and help Lilith with the clean-up. And so it happened that Gabriel asked Lilith if she would like to see if the assertive engineer who had supped at her makeshift table had got it right.
Neither of them brought up the possibility that a failed attempt in bed could ruin a friendship. They probably did not believe it. They were just so comfortable together. Nothing could destroy that sense of familiarity and well-being they experienced with each other.
Benjamin’s conviction that Lilith and Gabriel would not make it past a week, proved groundless. They lasted well into their late thirties and even had a child together.
And where do I come into this story? How come I know all this? Well, I only know it second hand, from Lilith herself. You see, I met her when she was 40 and I 42. And we are together now for almost eight years, and I am betting that we will last. There has never been a sceptical Benjamin to ask if we will endure. But I did have a question for Lilith: What was it that made it work for so long between her and Gabriel? After all, those that knew them had no faith and only a stranger saw possibility in them. They themselves had never entertained that possibility. How weird is that? It took Lilith many months, after I asked the question, to answer it. It was about a year into our relationship, when she and I and her son had begun to live together. I know it was difficult for her to tell me. It was difficult for me to hear — male pride and all that.
I remember that exchange as if it were yesterday. I remember every detail of it. It is probably that conversation — her answer, to be exact, and the way in which she behaved — that has made me cleave to her all the more. I don’t think that anyone has ever been so sensitive about my feelings. I don’t think that anyone has ever shown so poignantly their love . . . for me.
When she began to talk about their sexual affinity, something that came about through that ease and confident knowledge of each other because of their long friendship, at first, it is true, my heart skipped a beat. I thought I might die from the sting of her answer, but I didn’t die. I didn’t drown in the loss of her. Because she put her hand behind my head and stroked my neck. She continued to touch me. She never let me go. And then, with both hands, she lightly caressed my face, every particle of it, as if she wished to memorize it, and later reproduce it. She wanted to hold me. She wanted to keep me. And what she gave me was eternal, far greater than the sexual affinity she had experienced previously, which, fortunately for me, proved not to be enough for her.