A few years ago, I was in one of the more normal romantic relationships of my life. By the standards of my bygone twenties, this meant I wasn’t enjoying two weeks of occasionally-protected sex with a borderline personality disorder case in the middle of a breakup, who’d promptly ghost me once she felt like returning to her partner. Nope, I had a girlfriend that wasn’t on lease, and I wanted to do our first Valentine’s Day right.
There was a hotel. Candles. Rose petals. Bubble bath. Enough gifts to supply an Oliver!’s-worth of orphans with a Christmas. In fact, everything about the night thus far had been executed flawlessly. It was the burden of what was to come that weighed upon me.
You see, the one glaring issue in the relationship was a subdued sex life (I mean “subdued” in the sense that the titular corpse from Weekend at Bernie’s was “subdued”). We simply failed to click on that level. I won’t lob that failure at my ex’s feet because, much like the album Lou Reed did with Metallica, two greats can come together and, sometimes, the result is an unequivocal abortion.
(Apparently, for the purposes of this analogy, zookeepers enjoy amazing sex with their apes.)
Sadly, as expected, I would describe the night’s ensuing coitus as “perfunctory,” a word I’d prefer to apply to an oil change than my sex life, but I figured that was the price to pay for a normalcy. First date roadhead and first anniversaries seldom go hand-in-hand.
In fact, I was so happy to be in a relationship that, despite the incredibly pedestrian nature of the lovemaking, I went back for a second round. It was the same way you might not think highly of Boston Market, but if there’s one within walking distance, you’ll find yourself eating more terrible cornbread than you ever expected to simply because it’s convenient, and you don’t want them to go out of business.
Feeling I had performed my duties both as a gentleman and a lover, the evening got to the portion in which I was actually interested: Shoveling countless Reese’s Peanut Butter Hearts that I had ostensibly purchased for my beau into my yap while we watched 30 Rock on an iPad in bed. Again, I figured this was how regular people did it: Lackluster in the passion department, but you’d have someone to share Liz Lemon and adult-onset diabetes with.
Being frugal (sounds so much nicer than “gigantic piece of skinflint shit”), I’d opted for a rather old hotel. It wasn’t particularly unattractive, and it undeniably possessed a certain, Shining-esque je ne sais quoi, but its age showed in certain aspects. One of those was the ductwork, which was obtrusive, cavernous, and carried sound like the halls of an asylum.
Around 10 P.M., by which time I thought I’d be done with our begrudging brand of sex and free to eat chocolate on my back like a triumphant Roman emperor, the echoes of one dickens of a pounding began to drift into our room. This sex was everything our sex was not. Confident. Energetic. Powerful. To continue with the 30 Rock metaphors, their sex was Jack Donaghy. Ours was Kenneth the Page.
We laughed it off at first, but the yawning void in our relationship was immediately thrust in our faces by a never-ending chorus of creaky bedsprings and lustful moans. It was like being a Vikings fan during the Teddy Bridgewater years: You can tell yourself that he’s not a journeyman, and he’s a long-term solution behind center, but the instant Aaron Rodgers comes to town, you’ll reflexively point to #12 and go, “That. I want that.”
Even now, with the passage of several years, the awkwardness of that evening hasn’t washed over me. As a man, you haven’t felt shame until you’ve spent 240 minutes drowning out the sounds of a couple doing what they should on Valentine’s Day by plugging a Netflix-blasting headphone in one ear and your finger in the other. It was like being a child and trying to escape the sounds of your parents fighting, if your parents fought by fucking like dad had just gotten out on parole.
Our relationship went on a while after that incident, and I won’t even say that evening mortally-wounded it, but it certainly was analogous to a sore in your mouth into which you just can’t stop sticking your tongue. Our Valentine’s Days from there on out were certainly more subdued affairs. Preferably spent in rooms where sound didn’t carry.