Granted, he had given his fiancée plenty of reasons to be vigilant. Why beat around the bush? He was a lying, cheating bastard. That much was undeniable. The problem was, Michael absolved himself, that Karen didn’t appeal to him anymore. So cheating on her wasn’t really his fault. He had a glimpse of this realization a few weeks earlier. During one of the rare weekends when her parents were away visiting relatives, Karen spent Saturday night with him. Around 3:30 a.m., she woke up in a sweat. She tapped him on the shoulder to make sure that he was also awake. Then she asked him, as she did during holidays and other special occasions, to make a bullet point list of the top ten qualities he liked about her. “Number one. You let me sleep,” Michael mumbled. But since that night Karen was particularly persistent, he quickly spewed off a list, hoping that she’d let him go back to sleep: “You have soft skin. You give to charity. You’re a good listener. You communicate well. You love me. You’re considerate to others. You’re solid as a rock.”
“I mean I can always count on you. Plus you’re a hard worker,” he went on. “And you smell nice.”
“I smell like sweat right now,” she pointed out.
“So what? Maybe that turns me on. Is that ten yet?”
She counted by her fingers. “You still have one left.”
Michael thought for a moment. “You’re all mine.”
“And you mine,” she replied adding, after a few seconds, “most of the time.”
Now that he thought about it, Michael felt somewhat disingenuous about saying that he loved all of Karen’s qualities. Because some of them had an underside. For instance: sure, Karen was steadfast and solid. But that’s also because she was so damn cold. It occurred to him that even her displays of emotion were generally manifestations of self-pity or efforts to move him, not genuine other-regarding impulses. Come to think of it, Karen never radiated any real warmth. He suspected that she gave to charity mostly to feel better about herself. Goodness was an act for her, just as fidelity was for him. All of this would have been all right with him, since after all he was no Gandhi either, if only she were more sexually available to him. What did I ever see in her? Michael wondered with the ingratitude of a man who has fallen out of love. He had a visual flashback to when they first met. Karen had been thinner, tall and leggy: the kind of woman he usually went for. She had posted a note in the Department of French and Italian that she needed a tutor to practice her French. As soon as he saw a female name, Michael spotted a potential opportunity for an easy score. Boy was he wrong…
Karen smiled a lot and acted friendly enough, but she remained all business during their meetings. There was something puritan yet enticingly corruptible about this woman that drew Michael to her. For two long, tantalizing months she flirted with him, even going so far as to pet and kiss. In spite of his relentless efforts, however, she refused to go all the way with him. Michael had never actually encountered such a specimen: the semi-virtuous woman. He had frequently run into loose women (his favorite kind, at least from a pragmatic perspective) and, less often, women who weren’t interested in him (which he conveniently categorized as “lesbians”). He had also encountered the kind of women he wasn’t interested in. Generally speaking, after a few drinks, that category became negligibly small. But nobody had tried to pull the “I don’t have sex before marriage” crap on him before. Wasn’t that over and done with since in the sixties? After all, what did all those chicks burn their bras for? This was the one triumph of women’s lib Michael wholeheartedly supported. The rest, he thought, were sexist against men.
Used to getting his way with women, after two months of dating Michael dropped the pining lover routine. One evening when they were making out in the back seat of his car, he unzipped his pants and pulled up her skirt. Karen objected, but Michael was no longer disposed to heed her protestations. I’ve put more than enough time into this freaking relationship, he thought, ready to reap his rewards. He pushed Karen’s shoulders down and lay on top of her, pinning down her arms with his hands and prying her legs open with his knees. She tried to discourage him but was cut short by a voice she hardly recognized, uttering something between a bark and a command. “Shut the fuck up woman!” Had she heard right? Karen blinked in disbelief. The man who stared into her eyes with a cold and fierce gaze was not the sweet boyfriend she was madly in love with, who respected and honored her wishes. Stunned by this sudden transformation, Karen closed her eyes. She lay there passively, waiting for him to finish and hoping that the real Michael would return to save her. Fortunately, she didn’t have to wait long. Within a few minutes, he was done. “Oh God, how I love you! You drive me crazy,” Michael whispered heatedly into her ear, like a man who had been in the throes of an irrepressible passion. “I wanted to wait until our wedding night,” Karen said with a note of regret. “I know Baby, but I wanted you too much. I just couldn’t wait that long,” Michael replied in a raspy and melodious voice, covering her face with moist kisses. This familiar and tender lover almost instantly effaced the unsettling impression left by the double that had momentarily usurped his place.
Although Karen’s virtue bent easily to Michael’s will, her general air of reticence, even coolness, persisted. Which is why their dating relationship became his top challenge in life, far more interesting than the merely physical conquests he continued to have on the side. Basically, Michael wanted to get a cold fish to behave like a cat in heat. If only he could manage that biological feat, not only would he live in marital bliss, but also he might even get an award for genetic hybridization from the National Science Foundation. Like all good scientists, Michael experimented extensively. He treated Karen warmly and tried to kiss and caress her copiously, but that only made her nervous and withdrawn. He withdrew and complained, but usually that only scored him the rebuttal that he didn’t communicate enough. He haggled, trading watching a chick flick for a little flicker of passion, but ended up getting the raw end of the deal since Karen remained lukewarm with him.
Then again, Michael had to be fair about the whole situation. He didn’t screw around because Karen deprived him of sex. He screwed around because he liked chasing women and sleeping with them. I just haven’t found the woman of my dreams yet, Michael told himself. What do I really want from a partner? he asked himself. The two-year stretch of dating Karen had nearly made him forget his own dreams. Let’s see, he tried to recall. Basically, he wanted what most men want from their mate. A woman who was faithful and dependable yet a slut with her man. A woman who was sexy and elegant yet remained fiscally responsible, even frugal. A woman who was girlish with him yet mature and maternal with their children. A woman who was smart and accomplished, but never put her career before him. A woman who was ready to follow him around anywhere he wanted to go. And, ever since he was a sophomore in high school, he knew exactly where that place was.
After finishing his Master’s degree, on which he had less than a year of studies left, Michael wanted to move to Phoenix, Arizona, a place he had scoped out with his parents during one of their trips across the country. Phoenix had it all. It was a big city yet also a vacationland lost in the mountains. It was warm and sunny all year round yet had seasonal refreshing rains that alleviated the scorching heat. Michael recalled the thrill of being caught in one of those monsoons. The revitalizing shower flowed like a warm curtain from the sky, a veritable benediction from nature. Ever since those summer vacations had whetted his appetite for sunny Arizona, his plan was to find an easy prep school job teaching French in Phoenix. Work would consist of rolling out of bed to entertain hot teenagers while incidentally also teaching them a few words of French, then come home to a horny wife waiting for him with her legs spread eagle on the appropriately named love chair.
When he shared some of these plans with his fiancée, Karen didn’t seem too excited. She objected that her family lived in the Detroit area. Besides, she really liked the physician’s office where she was currently employed. But agreeing upon a location wasn’t the main obstacle to their future bliss. The more Michael got to know Karen, the more he realized that she could never be the kind of wife he had dreamed of. Did such a woman even exist? Or was he engaging in wishful thinking when he hoped to find a woman with the perfect mixture of seemingly opposite qualities—the faithful and devoted whore, the frugal and modest hottie—that was most men’s wet dream? If he couldn’t find the ideal woman, then he might as well enjoy his freedom and play the field, he concluded.
Women have it so much easier, Michael mused. They don’t have to do quite as much empirical research. They pick the first fool who’s dumb enough to hand them an engagement ring. Wait a minute, I was such a fool, it occurred to him. Michael released a shiver of relief. Holy shit! I barely escaped the shackles of matrimony. He sprung up from bed and poured himself a glass of cognac, his favorite cocktail. He drank it slowly, allowing each drop to glide smoothly down his throat and tickle his palate. He then climbed out of his bedroom window to the roof, as he used to do as a child in his parents’ house. Michael stretched out his body on the warm shingles like a tomcat. He looked up at the expanse of blue sky. Not a single cloud in sight, he observed with a sense of inner satisfaction, perceiving the endless horizon as a symbol of his newly regained freedom.