Sex vs. Intimacy: Why Do So Many Gay People Head for the Door When the Sex Starts to Look like Love? Two Writers, a Man and a Woman, Share Their Tales of Hooking Up, Growing Up, and Facing Up to Commitment. (the Sex Issue)

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Star-crossed romance An Internet date becomes a lesson in how to hook up without connecting

In May I moved from Provincetown, Mass., to Los Angeles. The move entailed both a beginning and an end for me. It was the beginning of research for a book I'm writing--about stars and fans and the strange, paradoxically distant and intimate relationships they have with one another. And it was the end of a six-month period of celibacy. (If you've ever wondered whether P-town is quiet in the winter, there's your answer.) In the process of it all, I met a guy who helped me see some uncanny connections between this beginning and this end.

Through one of the more efficient Web sites for arranging sexual hookups, I received an E-mail from a man with a jacked-up online profile composed of hairy-alpha-muscle-jock-type words: all of my hot buttons abbreviated and concentrated into one. "Let's get together for some powerfucking," he wrote. His pictures were impressive, but it was the neologism that really caught my eye.

I took a few minutes to work on an alluringly laconic response. "Powerfuck," I wrote. "Now, there is a verb."

A while later he sent a second E-mail, reiterating his invitation and clarifying his term:

"Powerfuck (pou * er * fuk) v. 1. a rapid, piston-like form of sexual intercourse between males characterized by passionate noises and heavy sweating 2. sexual intercourse whose subtext is the expression, celebration, and/or testing of male power, both dominant and submissive 3. sexual intercourse with a world leader."

Considering the grunt-stupid online lingo most gay men use for arranging sexual encounters--"'Sup? ... s2r ... Into?"--this guy--I'll call him Jeff--was practically Byron. The next day he came to my apartment, and, piston-like, we explored the meanings of my new favorite word. Definitions 1 and 2 anyway. Tony Blair was unavailable for number 3.

Afterward, Jeff took a look at my bookcases and kept making little noises of recognition, lingering particularly on the histories of Hollywood. When he asked what I do for work and why I'd moved to L.A., he brightened even more. He works in the film industry, and his mind is stuffed full of the same anecdotes and images of movie stars that lodge in the memory of anyone who's the least bit starstruck.

"I love stories about fans," he said, and the ones he told me were all about stars' weariness at being expected to play, in real life, their on-screen personae. The first was about Joan Crawford. On the set of a television show in the 1970s, when Crawford's makeup man brought a friend of his--a longtime Crawford fan--to meet her, she imperiously interrupted the introduction: "What would I want to meet him for?"

"And why would she?" Jeff asked. The relationship was only in that guy's head. Why should she be expected to be the woman she was on-screen?"

He was lying with his head on my shoulder while we talked. I was running my hand through the hundreds of little blond curls on his head, developing a bit of a crush on him. He was articulate, funny, attentive, and the sex was all-time top 5 list-caliber, easy. I asked some indirect questions to find out his marital status. He smelled my intentions immediately and took the offensive.

"Hooking up online is perfect for me because I can have completely anonymous sex and then disappear back into the city," he said. He didn't sound angry or mean. He was calmly warning me to expect nothing from him. "I have no interest in and am not at this time capable of being in a relationship," he added. "Any hint of romantic intent will send me fleeing. And you'll be surprised at how much of that you'll find in L.A. The way we come together and flee. You should write about that."

Thinking about the conversation later, I realized that there are some striking similarities between the subject he suggested and the one I'm working on. …