“Fantasy love is much better than reality love. Never doing it is very exciting. The most exciting attractions are between two opposites that never meet.” -Andy Warhol
It all started with a leak under my refrigerator. Then it became clear that the entire wood floor needed replacing. After my contractor arrived, we decided the cabinets would look even worse than they already did next to a new floor, so that was going to be my part in the kitchen rehab. Before long, the kitchen was gutted and I am working alongside my contractor sanding and refinishing. What makes guys who can fix things so sexy? Contractors have always been one of my weak points. I can’t help but fall for guys who can turn my ideas into reality so easily. It seems like the power tools are part of their hands.
I am not alone in my contractor fantasies. Almost every woman I know is attracted to the power and manliness of construction. There are entire erotic books and videos dedicated to the theme. The reason that fantasies like these are such powerful libido fuel is that it taps into the flirty, sexy part of us that often lies dormant. I am pretty sure that my contractor had no idea about the sexual energy that working side by side with him evoked. Usually, I am an observer in the construction projects in my house. But this time, the cabinets were my part while my guy did the floor. Kitchens are an intimate space, arguably, in a busy family the heart of the house. So the metaphor was not lost on me, that, as my kids were packing up and leaving home, I was taking a sander to all the pen marks, scratches and burns that they had all contributed to our countertops. It was emotional, cleansing and bittersweet.
I suppose all of these factors primed me even more for my contractor crush, but it also surprised me. I can’t remember the last time I experienced that familiar rising libido around a new man in my home. But then, I haven’t worked alongside a contractor in a long time either. Even through the fog of my menopausal hot flashes, something youthful and girly bubbled up in me as we weighed the merits of gloss or satin. We worked as a team, and as he showed me the tricks of cleaning out a belt sander or setting up saw horse work stations, resonated as small gestures of affection. So although nothing inappropriate was said, there was an edge of flirtation that made me laugh out loud at myself through the sanding grit.
Something else happens when you work at something side by side with someone; you start to see them beyond all the ideas you had about who they are, and you in turn feel seen. This I realized is what Noel Biderman had been referring to when we spoke and he told me that for the majority of women searching for affairs on the Ashley Madison’s cheaters website aren’t looking for sex, but rather that feeling of aliveness that happens when someone is really looking at you, interested in what you are saying. I remembered again, how so much of our most potent sexual energy is tied up in the flirtatious exchanges preceding it. Even a tiny dose of this kind of attention imbued with attraction and flirtation feels like a happy drug. It is like sipping from some perpetual cup of youth. You can spot this singular energy a mile away: the entrained gaze, lightness in step that goes with this biological response to the first inklings of intimacy.
Being able to master this energy and direct it towards the relationships you want to build is, I learned, the key to freeing oneself and experiencing the benefits of fantasies each time they present themselves. I knew that I was not foolish enough to act on this and risk the profoundly remarkable physical intimacy I have with my husband. In fact, the libido I tapped into found its way into our intimacy.
But the real risk in freeing your fantasy life is the way that small crushes can also seep into all the cracks in a relationship as well. All of the ways that I feel lonely in my marriage got slightly swollen with the power of feeling my own libido rising over a stranger. It didn’t help that when my husband arrived home from his time away with our sons, the first thing he noticed was a cutting board that I mistakenly refinished instead of the beautiful transformed kitchen. He saw his own error before I had time to say anything, but the damage was done. The wound was struck and now in my crushed state of mind, I could also clearly see that his comment was not a singular moment, but instead reflected a huge overlying issue that has been eating away at our connection over all these years.
With the job completed, my contractor packed up his tools and left for his next job. I still have his palm sander re-finishing my tables. But as I spent the last few evenings waxing over the brief connection to that old, familiar, yet almost forgotten sexy young woman that emerged over refinishing my kitchen, I better understood the small cracks that make it too easy for many to make the decision to leave the sanctity and safety of their relationships. It is easy to confuse the rush of sexual energy that arises in you during brief fantasies as some greater truth than the ongoing grind of finding how to love every day. The kitchen is almost fully reconstructed. And I am working on integrating the crush into my marriage.