By Alexa Day
More than almost anything else, I fear being bored.
I’m still more afraid of pregnancy, but I know I can avoid pregnancy. Boredom has a way of sneaking up on a girl, often in the guise of contentment. Stability. Settling down.
Learned colleagues tipped me off to a 2014 Vanity Fair article about French dominatrix Catherine Robbe-Grillet. (Why am I always last to hear about things like this?) The story is a fascinating exploration of BDSM; the exotic French locations are worth the read all by themselves. But I found myself most struck by the various relationships Robbe-Grillet enjoys with those in her circle.
First, there’s Beverly Charpentier, most accurately described as the woman who lives with Robbe-Grillet. Charpentier has enjoyed both dominance and submission, but the wealth of experiences she’s had with Robbe-Grillet seem to transcend the mere sexual. They defy simple description. Pleasure, pain, surrender — they’re all just parts of the relationship. The bond is clearly more than sexual, and yet Charpentier answers without hesitation that the relationship isn’t love, at least in the romantic sense.
The article goes on to describe Robbe-Grillet’s marriage. She and her husband were unable to have intercourse, but he permitted her to take numerous lovers during the 50 years they were together. Robbe-Grillet’s sexual journey takes her from submission to her husband, novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, to domination of a young male submissive, to the gradual development of a large group of submissives and a remarkable array of sexual tableaux and rituals. (She’s also a novelist in her own right. Her body of work includes the classic, The Image.)
Through all this, while it is clear that Robbe-Grillet loves what she does and that she enjoys an amazing intimacy with those in her coterie, it is equally clear that she is in love with none of her intimates. The constant evolution and change seem to breathe life into everyone in Robbe-Grillet’s circle. Still, but for her marriage, long-lasting romantic love is not part of the equation.
I was entranced by the story of Robbe-Grillet’s lifestyle. Not so much because it separates sex from love — for so many BDSM practitioners, play time is undeniably sexual but not romantic. But this story recognizes that sex and love are not limited to or restricted by each other. Once love and sex are not inextricably linked, it’s perhaps possible to explore each in greater depth than before.
I could not help but wonder: does our view of love require limits? Is it by necessity a way to place boundaries on our lives? Must love demand that we refuse one thing, deny other people, reject other opportunities?
Does one sacrifice necessarily lead to a cascade of others?
All these unanswered questions make me grateful that today’s romance genre has expanded to include the happy-for-now ending. It’s never been more possible for a romance heroine to find a mate (or mates) without really giving anything up, sexually or otherwise. For women whose idea of “having it all” includes exploration with many and devotion to one, romance has never been a better place to be.
And who among us doesn’t want to have it all?
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