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It's supposed to be about love, not power

By Paulina Borsook

"Borders Bookstore" - artist unknown


That's what a good friend of mine said, when she talked about the guy she had finally, finally hooked up with, she an accomplished independent world-class world-traveled academic. I was taken aback: this was so simple, but so smart --- I had never dreamed that what I needed, what could be had, could be so clearly stated.

It got me thinking about my ex-husband --- who, when we met for dinner after we had parted, got into a mannerly tiff with me about his new doormat-mate (he's married to her, they have three kids) --- "she's a wimp!" I said. "So what? Why don't you get one of your own!" he retorted. And I shot back, "Because it's not what I want. Besides, it simply doesn't work well with the roles reversed."

Because, when I've been with guys less powerful than me, they get--resentful. There's a need for, let's call it not male domination, but a kind of male feeling of-dominion-, that I think is very bound up in feeling securely male and hetero. When I've had the stronger opinions/weight of the world on my side, the guys I've been with would act out, get passive/aggressive, sabotage and snipe and sneak around [for and with women who were low-bandwidth or virginal in affect or biddable/labile/easy to be with] - because, they've said with great ruefulness and affection years after we've broken up- they were threatened. So what's a girl to do?

It all reminded me of a remaindered book I shelved when I was engaged, working at a used bookstore in Berkeley-- "Living with Contradictions," it was was called, about being a married feminist. Truer than I ever even could have realized at the time.

The only guy I've lived with since my divorce told me with great apology after we parted, that he was -sorry- that he turned into power issues so many things in retrospect he could see clearly weren't. But-why-? Where does this come from? Why didn't I see this? Why did he do this? What rules of engagement were I not understanding?

I remember a cute young butch dyke -- at least a decade my junior, fresh out of the Foucault-inflected/deconstructionist/Politically Correct undergraduate world of the 90s, who I became friendly with in my MFA program --- making the offhand comment that "all sexual relations are about power, aren't they?" They are? Should I have known this? How come I didn't?

I've remained haunted by her remark for years --- giving power away in love, wondering how critical power is to love. Thinking about how when I read The Story of O when I was a kid, that I understood how O was complicit in all that happened to her, that by putting herself in this one-down position, she gained the focus of tremendous amounts of erotic attention --- and that this was a Swell Deal. Of a sort. That it's complicated and I am not sure where I stand in it, but surely I want the love to matter more than the power.

So when recently I tangled briefly with a guy who I think of as being my animus in the Jungian sense --- my male artistic double, eerily so --- and he turned out as a -man- to be into roughsex [which I am not --- if someone hurts me, I want to kick him. For me, nothing is more anaphrodisiac than pain] it got me thinking, "So what's the -diff-? He's into physical pain, because it sends him to places emotionally and psychologically and sexually he cannot get to otherwise; I so often get myself into these dramas of -emotional- S+M, where I discover myself torqued around utterly --- but the pain that ensues [which I hate, I hate!] gives me access I cannot have any other way. Exquisiteness of sensation, depth of insight, closeness to True Self --- and what horrifyingly emerges is too often my best work, as nothing else seems to send me towards. So, like, is there an important distinction to be made here between me and animus-boy? I am not sure there is..."

And fresh on his heels, I ran into another guy who -was- (among other things, and not exclusively) into role-playing (but not pain), dominance and submission, master and commander --- yet I didn't run. In fact, I was fascinated. This really didn't play out between us, but I hadn't -really- -literally- known this was in my psyche, that I could think of responding in that way to a guy. Perhaps I glimpsed the chance to externalize the aquifers that run underneath the relations between men and women, a chance to work it out by making it explicit, psychodrama gestalt re-enactment. I'll never get the chance to find out, for things ended before we really got to explore those.

But the question remains. Can it -be- about love, and not about power? It's a trope in Hollywood (everything from the most recent "Star Trek" movie to "Fatal Attraction") that if a woman is powerful and sexual --- she must be crazy and/or evil. And I keep on wondering if it's a self-enforced naivete or female conditioning I never properly acquired, that keeps me hoping that some day, like my friend the New England professor, like the Marxist romantic impossible dream of the withering away of the state, it -will- only be about love, and not about power, between me and a guy who I want to look at and talk with across a breakfast table.

Paulina Borsook ( is a writer , living and working in San Francisco, California. Paula is currently at work on a book concerning the political culture of our high-tech world, but is dreaming of producing a post- modernist retelling of Arthue Schnitzler's " La Ronde ". You can visit Paulina's Web Site at

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