I met Benjamin on a hot summer day in 20xx. I was still young, single, and blissfully unaware of the responsibilities ahead of me. Don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t just any young, single, middle class girl having fun. I had fought very hard to achieve that status itself. Let me rewind.
It was the summer of 20xx. The year before, my divorce from a forced marriage had just come through, along with the standard abandonment of my natal family and a host of other personal and emotional issues. But that summer I had decided to put it all behind me and just enjoy life and my newfound freedom as an independent, young woman who had successfully defied patriarchy and resisted ‘expectations’ to lead her own life.
It was precisely amidst that blissful moment of joie de vivre (full of life) and mental promises of not falling for a committed relationship that I met Benjamin. That summer evening Benjamin ended up in my apartment, in my bed, and very soon out of my life. We parted ways the next day, only to become Facebook friends for eternity, our desires embossed as “likes” on each other’s profile pictures.
Several summers have passed since and now I study sex and sexuality for a living. I am older and certainly wiser thanks to my academic and activist training about the experiences sexuality and the fluidity of sexual desire. Since that summer I met Benjamin, being a feminist has become a more acceptable and ‘cool’ phenomenon amongst urban youth, owing in large part to major celebrities owning the label.
We parted ways soon, only to become Facebook friends for eternity, our desires embossed as “likes” on each other’s profile pictures.
Other labels that people use to describe their sexual desires have gained popularity as well— people who are sexual with the opposite sex (heterosexual), those who are sexual with the same gender (homosexual), those who are not sexual with anyone or those who don’t have sexual feelings for anyone and yet love sex (asexual), and those who can only be sexual with emotions involved (demisexual)—to name a few.
I realized how far along my life and discussions about sexuality in everyday living had come since that summer of 20xx last year when fate and career choices brought me back to the same city I had once met Benjamin. As I sat in a dingy downtown bar not far from our lustful encounter several summers past with a group of younger girlfriends talking about sex and relationships—our own global South version of Sex and the City—I saw the ease with which they analyzed their relationships, knew what kind of ‘sexual’ they were, and exactly what they wanted.
Staggering back home that evening, memories of my encounter with Benjamin hit me for the very first time. May be it was because I was back in the same city or because the conversations with my friends had entailed several references to that summer.
Even though apart from the love making, I couldn’t remember much of what had transpired between us, I was consumed with an overwhelming desire to see him, to be with him again. Benjamin in my mind was linked with a special time of my life, the summer of 20xx that I have never forgotten. This was the summer of my life before everything changed for the better.
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What had preceded this summer was patriarchal misery and violence and what followed, was a career of my choice, love, children and everything that patriarchy had once threatened to take away from me since I had refused to partake of the patriarchal bargain. I had rejected a loveless marriage and other ‘cultural’ expectations that many women are forced to accept in order to be assured of a tolerable life and future.
I suddenly felt the overwhelming urge to hold, even if for a brief moment, the memory of the summer of 20xx, the summer of change and hope and fun again in my body. I wanted to literally embody that summer again and enwrap around myself the most powerful reminder of that summer: Benjamin.
Several scholars such as Sarah Ahmed, working on queerness and sexuality, have spoken about the impossibility of separating the physical body from experiences in the way our bodies orientate and respond to certain objects and memories. In addition to that, they critique the linear notion of time that makes view events running from the past to the future instead of cyclically where the past always comes back to inform our present and future.
For instance, during random moments in a day a certain smell evokes a memory so strong that you are once again in a time and body of your past, reliving a certain moment. That evening last year made me realize how we carry nostalgia for certain time periods of our lives in our bodies and how that embodiment manifests as sexual desire for people who are a part of those memories you love.
a certain smell evokes a memory so strong that you are once again in a time and body of your past, reliving a certain moment.
Sexual desiring then becomes a drive that goes beyond just fucking. It becomes the reflection of love for a memory embodied by someone who you enjoyed intense pleasure with at that time. Desire and love become intertwined and complicated due to the nostalgia you feel for a certain moment in your life.
Unlike the love we learn that is aimed at one person for life and a feeling higher than sexual yearning, love can also be directed at someone who is a beautiful reminder of a nostalgic moment in your life, a feeling whose intensity can change depending on certain triggers that take you back to that time and that is inseparable from sexual desire because of the way the body remembers and craves for a specific memory and the person who embodies it.
Since last year, I have struggled to find a label for that intense and fleeting sexual desire that wants you to love and to be made love to by someone who is so inextricably tied to a particular time of your life. I have returned clueless about the label for my feelings for Benjamin after many conversations with peers and academic and activist friend circles and from every nook and corner of the city where my memories from that summer have been engraved for a lifetime.
How do you label someone whose object of sexual desire and love is inextricably linked to their nostalgia and once that object of desire leaves the contours of their memory and becomes reality they stop loving them? I want to hold on to Benjamin in my mind, in my body as the beautiful summer of 20xx so that I can keep on loving and desiring him forever.
Featured Image Credit: Time Out