My initial plan was to become a brilliant concert pianist, marry Van Cliburn and live happily ever after. I figured that since we both had naturally curly hair and loved Chopin, it was a perfect match. But before that, I was going to EXPERIENCE LIFE! Which meant, being a child of the 60s and 70s, that I would have many lovers and flirt outrageously with Johnny Carson, just like Eva Gabor and all the other glamorous women guests on the Tonight Show.
It didn’t work out exactly like that. My first boyfriend was the head usher at the Allyn movie theatre in downtown Hartford. Wayne lived in another part of town, went to a different high school and was very cute. We would sneak up to the balcony on breaks for closed-mouth kisses and while it was new and exciting, I wasn’t really interested in HIM. I knew I liked being liked but that was about it. The one time he dropped by my house on his bike, out of uniform… well, it was a real disappointment. (it was a VERY snappy uniform!!) When I was fired from that first job, it was a relief that I wouldn’t have to see him any more.
The vibes coming from our parents had always been such that, even tho nothing was said overtly, we knew we weren’t encouraged to date. That may have been due to the troubles brewing in their own relationship, or my mother’s terror of our becoming pregnant (and trapped!) or my dad’s unwillingness to see us grow up, or some combination thereof. My dad warned us that “most men see women as meat – something to be pursued, used and disposed of”- a rather unsavory picture of romance for a teenage girl. Still, sexual freedom was in the air and I felt urge to get GOING already as I had devoured all those magazines and read Helen Gurley Brown’s SEX & THE SINGLE GIRL cover to cover.
I’d had crushes – all unrequited, of course – on the handsome but somewhat dim boy in German class, the substitute teachers who looked SO much like Freddie of Freddie & The Dreamers, Paul McCartney and let’s not forget Van Cliburn! And I’d held hands with the accompanist and kissed a singer from the InterHigh Choir on a concert tour to D.C. There was some smooching with a fellow cashier at Korvette’s – but nothing serious – nobody even got to 2nd base. Boys were so FOREIGN and they stayed that way for me through high school.
Once I’d moved away to college, there was more freedom to meet with boys but dating per se had somehow disappeared. My girlfriends who came of age in the 70s agree: in the musician/artist crowds we ran with, NOBODY actually went out on dates! You’d meet someone interesting, flirt, and… sometimes it was almost like shaking hands, it was so casual. From age 18 to 27, I think I may have gone out on no more than a half dozen actual DATES. We didn’t call it a “hookup” or a “booty call”, but for those of us who weren’t in a serious relationship, that’s essentially what it was.
I had always been drawn to musicians – especially those who could really PLAY. It didn’t matter whether they were married or not – in fact, I was more comfortable if they were already spoken for, because I had no intention of letting anything as trivial as sex derail my career ambitions. I wasn’t tuned-in enough to attempt to parlay my affections for career advancement – not that I entertained any idea of “the purity of being in love” – but it just struck me as cheesy. Looking back now, I’m not sure whether I missed some great opportunities or whether it really would have been cheesy!?
I bumbled along through the 70s, never committing to anyone. There were many months at a time when I had no gentlemen callers, even though I rarely played hard-to-get. A lot of time I was mighty lonely. Instead of building connections in the music industry while I was Gil Evans’ copyist, I distracted myself by flirting with his band. Mostly I was judicious and paid attention to my own radar, so I didn’t wind up with many head cases, but I still have plenty of memories that make me cringe to this day, when I was shamed by lovers who somehow felt justified to put me down, criticizing the body they had just enjoyed. In my experience, the sexual revolution did very little to remedy the double standard.
I was confused in many of my relationships – frequently mistaking my interest in men as sexual in nature, when what I really wanted was their friendship and camaraderie. I loved how they played music, their enthusiasm for life, their creativity, their energy… and in many instances, it would have been a travesty to muddle my admiration and affection for them with sex. And yet I did, all too often. The smart ones talked me out of it and I wasn’t too difficult to dissuade – I don’t want to be around anyone who doesn’t want to be around me.
There were certain mileposts of progress – when I turned down a last-minute visit from a gorgeous, brilliant saxophonist because he called after midnight after months of hearing nothing from him – and when I realized that I could actively choose who I wanted to be with and not wait around to be noticed. It wasn’t exactly liberated, but felt like baby steps towards sexual self-esteem.
Romantic moments that actually made me swoon were few and far between, and generally weren’t sexual so much as warm and affectionate; the composition student who held my hand during a string quartet recital or listening with a friend to jazz piano at a NYC club while drinking one too many gin and tonics. Being actually SEEN as a person – and knowing that whoever is seeing you is LIKING you!? To me, that’s the gold. All the other stuff is posturing.